What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissue of the uterine lining (called the endometrium) to grow outside the uterus, usually on the uterine walls, fallopian tubes or bowel.
These growths are called implants, and they occur during a woman’s childbearing years, with pain and other symptoms usually becoming worse during a woman’s periods.
What symptoms does Endometriosis cause?
Endometriosis can cause a range of symptoms that can vary from one woman to another, depending on the size, location, and number of implants. Some of the more common symptoms of includes:
- severe period pain
- painful intercourse
- abdominal and pelvic pain between periods
- abnormal vaginal bleeding, including heavy periods, irregular periods and bleeding between periods
- painful bowel movements or chronic diarrhea or constipation
- pain when urinating
- pain the lower back or leg
- problems becoming pregnant
- pain before periods begin (premenstrual syndrome or PMS)
While most women with endometriosis experience some of these symptoms and some experience severe and constant symptoms, a few women will have no symptoms at all, only learning of the condition when they have difficulty becoming pregnant.
How is Endometriosis diagnosed?
Endometriosis can be diagnosed through diagnostic imaging tests like ultrasound or through a minimally-invasive procedure using a tiny scope to see inside the uterus. If the implants are causing bowel problems, a colonoscopy (examination of the bowel) may also be performed.
Available Treatment Options for Endometriosis:
Treatment for endometriosis depends on several factors, including the age and overall health of the patient, the severity of the symptoms and the goals of treatment (for instance, improved fertility). Treatment options include:
- hormone therapy to help control hormonal fluctuations that can exacerbate symptoms and spur implant growth
- birth control pills
- pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to control symptoms
- minimally-invasive (laparoscopic) surgery or traditional surgical techniques to remove the implants
- hysterectomy to remove the uterus when symptoms are severe and other approaches are not appropriate or ineffective in providing relief
Most women with endometriosis require ongoing care to keep symptoms under control. Each plan of treatment will be customized for the needs and goals of the patient for the best possible results.
How does Endometriosis affect fertility and the ability to get pregnant?
The main complication of endometriosis is lowered fertility. Approximately one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have trouble getting pregnant.
This is because endometriosis can obstruct the fallopian tube. For successful pregnancy, an egg is released by an ovary, and it then travels through the nearby fallopian tube where it becomes fertilized by the sperm cell. The egg then attaches itself to the uterine wall where it begins developing. When endometriosis obstructs the tube, it keeps the sperm and egg from uniting.
Endometriosis also seems to affect pregnancy in less-direct ways, such as by damaging the sperm or the egg. It can change the shape of the pelvis and reproductive organs, as well.
Is Endometriosis cancer?
Endometriosis is not cancer. In endometriosis, endometrial cells grow in other places, but the cells are normal.
In endometrial cancer, cells of the endometrium become abnormal looking, grow out of control, and form a tumor. These cells may spread to other parts of the body and become tumors at those distant locations.
There is some evidence that endometriosis can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, but this is not conclusive.
What causes Endometriosis?
The exact cause of endometriosis is not certain, but there are several possible theorized causes:
- Retrograde menstruation — When this happens, menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. These endometrial cells stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of the pelvic organs. There they grow and continue to thicken and bleed with each menstrual cycle.
- Transformation of peritoneal cells — In this theory, it is thought that hormones or immune factors promote transformation of peritoneal cells (cells that line the inner side of the abdomen) into endometrial-like cells.
- Endometrial cell transformation — Hormones such as estrogen may transform embryonic cells (cells in the earliest stages of development) into endometrial-like cell implants during puberty.
- Surgical scar implantation — It is thought that after surgery such as a C-section endometrial cells attach to a surgical incision.
- Endometrial cell transportation — Blood vessels or the lymphatic system may transport these cells to other areas of the body.
- Immune system disorder — A problem with the immune system may make the body unable to recognize and destroy endometrial-like tissue that’s growing outside the uterus.
Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk of developing Endometriosis?
You cannot prevent endometriosis. But you can reduce your chances of developing it by lowering your estrogen levels in your body. Estrogen helps to thicken the lining of your uterus during your menstrual cycle.
Here are some possible methods for keeping your estrogen levels down:
- Change your birth control — You can switch to birth control such as pills, patches, or rings with lower doses of estrogen.
- Exercise regularly — Exercising for more than 4 hours weekly has two helpful aspects with regard to endometriosis. First, it helps lower your percentage of body fat. Second, exercise and lower body fat amounts decrease the amount of estrogen circulating through the body.
- Avoid drinking in excess — Excessive alcohol consumption raises estrogen levels.
- Avoid overdoing the caffeine, too — Drinking more than one caffeinated drink a day, especially sodas and green tea, can raise estrogen levels.
Is Endometriosis an inherited condition?
There is evidence pointing to a genetic link with a woman developing endometriosis. If your mother, aunt, or sister has endometriosis, this elevates the chances of you developing it. It appears that endometriosis can be inherited via the maternal or paternal family line.
Is Endometriosis a sexually transmitted disease or an infectious disease?
There are some misconceptions about endometriosis. It is not a contagious disease, and it is not sexually transmitted. And, as mentioned above, it is not cancer.