Guest Post By Jenni Sunde.
Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological conditions that a woman can experience. Between 5 to 10 percent of all women will suffer from the disorder in her lifetime.
Endometriosis can cause a woman to experience severe pain, very painful periods, discomfort during sex, and a host of other symptoms.
This woman’s health problem can affect the quality of your life, and it can even make it hard for you to get pregnant. Unfortunately, endometriosis is considered a relatively “unknown” illness, and it can take years before women are properly diagnosed. (Many women are first diagnosed between age 25-35, though they’ve had the condition for a number of years prior to this.)
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when the cells from the uterine lining grow outside of the uterus (womb). They can grow on the outer wall of your uterus, on your ovaries, in your fallopian tubes, the intestines, or other organs in your abdomen. In rare circumstances, they can spread elsewhere in your body.
This condition is not dangerous or life-threatening, but it can cause you to have discomfort and pain.
In a normal woman, every month, the lining of your uterus (called the endometrium) thickens and prepares itself for a fertilized egg. If your egg is not fertilized that month, the endometrium will break down and get shed as menstrual blood. This is your period (or “Aunt Flow” as some women like to call it).
If you have endometriosis, the endometrium grows in other parts of your body (not just your uterus). During your menstrual cycle, this lining also gets thicker and breaks down (when there is no fertilized egg). Because these cells are growing outside of your uterus, the blood has nowhere to go. It cannot be shed. As a result, you will experience pain and discomfort. Sometimes, this extra tissue begins to form cysts or scar tissue, which can make it difficult for you to become pregnant.
What Causes Endometriosis?
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but researchers have several theories.
One theory is that endometriosis is caused by an imbalance in the interplay of a woman’s hormones and the immune system. A healthy immune system ensures that cells that grow in a specific part of the body (the uterus, in this case) can’t grow in other places.
Another theory argues that high levels of estrogen can contribute to this disorder. Women in their reproductive years typically have high levels of estrogen, and it’s only during these years that women experience endometriosis. When a woman enters menopause, her estrogen levels drop, and her symptoms from this disorder often disappear.
It is also possible that endometriosis is caused by retrograde menstruation – the endometrial cells that are shed during the time of your period somehow travel backwards through the fallopian tubes, into the pelvis, where they begin to grow.
These are all theories. Scientists are not exactly sure the mechanism behind endometriosis.
Risk Factors for Endometriosis
Although the cause of endometriosis is unknown, researchers do know risk factors for the condition. They include:
- Family History – Genetics may play the most powerful role in determining who is at risk for endometriosis. This reproductive disorder may run in families. Studies have shown that certain people carry a gene that allows for abnormal cell growth in the pelvic region. You are more at risk for endometriosis if you have a mother or sister with the condition.
- Early Menstruation — Women who start menstruating at an early age are more likely to develop endometriosis.
- Heavy, Painful Periods — You are also at higher risk for endometriosis if you have heavy, painful periods. Women whose menstrual cycles are less than 27 days apart, and women who have periods that last 7 days (more) are also at higher risk.
- Closed Hymen — If you have a closed hymen, this may also put you at risk for developing endometriosis.
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
The most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain or low back pain. This isn’t a universal symptom, because some women with the condition never have any pain at all. Other symptoms of the condition include:
- Very painful periods.
- Lower abdominal pain and discomfort before and during the monthly period.
- Cramping for 1-2 weeks before menstruation begins; and cramping during Aunt Flow. This cramping can range in severity from dull ache to severe, unbearable pain.
- Pain during sex, or pain immediately after sex.
For many women, infertility is one of the most heart-breaking symptoms of endometriosis. The link between decreased fertility and endometriosis is not completely understood, but it’s possible that both hormonal and anatomical factors play a role. (For example, the scar tissue that results from endometriosis can make it harder for the reproductive organs, like the fallopian tubes, to do its job.)
Women with more severe endometriosis typically find it harder to become pregnant. Most women with mild or moderate forms of the disorder are still able to conceive without any treatment.
For infertile women (as a result of endometriosis), studies show that with medical attention, such as using cystectomy and ablative surgery, pregnancy rates are 40 percent. Some couples may also opt to try in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which has been shown to be successful for many patients who wish to become pregnant.
What Treatments are Available for Endometriosis?
Besides IVF for infertility and surgery, treatment for endometriosis depends on patient age and whether or not they want to have children. Unfortunately, there is no cure for endometriosis, but symptoms like pain and infertility can be managed through hormone therapy, surgery and infertility treatment.
If a woman has endometriosis and does not plan on having children, then her doctor will likely prescribe her birth control hormones in the form of pills, a patch or a ring. She may also be given anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control the pain and bleeding. These medications may be used safely for a long time, giving women a chance at a normal life free of pain. Often, when women reach menopause, endometriosis tends to resolve itself.
Only in very severe cases are the ovaries and uterus removed.
With the proper care, endometriosis doesn’t have to take over your life. If you have any of the symptoms for endometriosis outlined above, visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible. As with any diagnosis, early detection can help determine your ultimate outcome.
Special Thanks to My Guest Blogger.
Jennifer Sunde is a freelance writer and editor who writes for and helps manage a site devoted to careers in healthcare. She also writes for a variety of sites devoted to fashion careers, home improvement and auto insurance.
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