What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, the endometrium, grows outside the uterus onto other parts of the body. This often painful condition affects an estimated 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years. Most commonly, endometriosis involves the ovaries, bowels, or the tissue lining the pelvis. It is rare that endometrial tissue will spread beyond the pelvic region. When endometriosis occurs, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would. During each menstrual cycle, the tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit the body, the tissue then becomes trapped and in turn falls onto surrounding organs. These surrounding organs then become irritated, and eventually develop scar tissue and adhesions. Usually, endometriosis causes pain, which can sometimes be severe, especially during menstruation.
What are the Symptoms?
The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, which is often associated with menstrual periods. Women who suffer from endometriosis have described their menstrual pain to be far worse than usual, with pain that increases over time. Although pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis, the severity of pain isn’t necessarily a reliable indictor to diagnose the extent of the condition. Some women with mild endometriosis suffer from extensive pain, while some women with advanced endometriosis may have little to no pain.
Other common symptoms of endometriosis may include:
- Painful periods (dysmenorrhea): Pelvic pains and cramping may begin before a menstrual period and continue for several days. This may also include lower back and abdominal pain.
- Pain during intercourse: Pain during or after sexual intercourse is a common symptom of endometriosis.
- Pain associated with bowel movements or urination: These symptoms are most likely to occur during a menstrual period.
- Excessive bleeding: It is common for women to experience occasional heavy periods (menorrhagia) or bleeding between periods (menometrorrhagia).
- Infertility: Women who are seeking treatment for infertility are usually the first to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
- Fatigue, constipation, bloating or nausea – especially during periods.
Endometriosis is often mistaken for other conditions that may cause pelvic pain. These conditions include:
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Ovarian cysts
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
What Can Cause Endometriosis?
An exact cause of endometriosis is not certain. There are several possible explanations, which may include:
- Retrograde menstruation: The most common cause of endometriosis. During retrograde menstruation, menstrual blood that contains endometrial cells will flow back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of flowing outside the body. The displaced endometrial cells then stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs, where they grow and continue to thicken and bleed over the course of each menstrual cycle.
- Embryonic cell growth: When one or more small areas of the abdominal lining turn into endometrial tissue, endometriosis can develop.
- Surgical scar implantation: After a surgery, such as a C-section or a total hysterectomy, endometrial cells may attach to a surgical incision.
- Endometrial cells transport: The blood vessels or tissue fluid (lymphatic) system may transport endometrial cells to other parts of the body.
- Immune system disorder: Issues with the immune system may cause the body to be unable to recognize and destroy endometrial tissue that is growing outside of the uterus.
Using Hysterectomy as a Treatment When Appropriate
In severe cases of endometriosis, surgery to remove the uterus and cervix (total hysterectomy) as well as both ovaries may be the best treatment. In most cases, a hysterectomy alone is not an effective method of treatment. This is because the estrogen that the ovaries produce can stimulate any remaining endometriosis; this results in continued pain. For women in their reproductive years, a hysterectomy is considered to be a last resort. This is due to the fact that you cannot get pregnant after a hysterectomy.
If you suffer from gynecological pain, it may be due to endometriosis. Contact Dr. Quartell today to learn more about endometrioses and to get the help you need.