- What is Endometriosis?
- High-Risk Factors
- Endometriosis Stages
- Endometriosis Diagnosis
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic disorder characterized by the presence of endometrial-like cells growing outside the uterus, which affects approximately 10% of women aged 15 to 44. Diagnosis of this condition can be challenging due to its diverse clinical presentation. Typically, endometriosis affects pelvic tissue, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes, as well as other organs such as the bladder and bowel. During the menstrual cycle, the ectopic endometrial tissue responds to hormonal changes, resulting in pain and discomfort in adhesions, leading to further complications such as ovarian cysts or endometriomas. March marks the month for endometriosis awareness, highlighting the need to educate and raise awareness of this often debilitating condition.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown but several factors put more people at a higher risk of getting it:
- Never giving birth
- Menstrual cycles more frequent than 28 days
- Heavy and prolonged periods lasting over a week
- Higher levels of estrogen
- Having a low body mass index
- Structural issues with the vagina, cervix, or uterus that prevent the passage of menstrual blood from the body
- Family history of endometriosis
- Starting your period at an early age
- Starting menopause at an older age
Lower Risk Factors:
- Having been pregnant before
- The menstrual cycle starts at a later age
- Breastfed your babies
One of the biggest symptoms of endometriosis is pelvic pain. This pain can happen both during your menstrual period and outside of it. It is normal to cramp on your period, but normal period cramps should be tolerable to continue your daily activities. If the cramping is hurtful to the point that it prevents you from continuing your day, then that is not normal and could be endometriosis. Another symptom is excessive bleeding during your period. Other symptoms include:
- Lower back and abdominal pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain with bowel movements or urination
- Constipation and bloating
- Diarrhea and nausea
- Extreme fatigue
There are four different stages of endometriosis. We will break them down and explain how each one is different.
- Peritoneal Endometriosis: minimal with few superficial implants
- Ovarian Endometriosis: mild with more implants that are deeper
- Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis I: moderate, many deep implants, small cysts on one or both ovaries, and the presence of adhesions
- Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis II: severe, many deep implants, large cysts on one or both ovaries, many dense adhesions
The best way to see if you have endometriosis is by checking in with your healthcare provider. The first thing they will ask is for you to describe your symptoms and the location of the pain. From there, they can take different exams like a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, or an MRI. They do this to get a clear view of the reproductive system and the organs surrounding it. However, the only way to make a definite diagnosis is through a surgery called laparoscopy. In this surgery, they put you under general anesthesia and make a small incision in the abdomen. They look for tissue that looks like endometriosis through a little camera that they insert. Then, they will take a sample when removing it to take a closer look under a microscope. After looking at the results, it can be positively determined if endometriosis is present or absent in the body.
There are a few ways to treat endometriosis. The first step is trying to manage symptoms. Usually, this is done through pain medication or hormone therapy. Sometimes birth control is required to help with the pain and prevent endometriosis from advancing in stages. If this doesn’t work, then surgery is the next step. The surgeons will remove the endometriosis tissue from the body to make the pain stop. They also recommend joining support groups because living with endometriosis can be stressful and having the extra support could greatly affect both mental and physical health.