Many patients have likely heard of endometriosis, but don’t have a clear understanding of what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it. The lining of the uterus is known as the endometrium. In some women, however, this tissue does not just grow inside of the uterus but also on other internal organs such as the bowel, bladder, fallopian tubes, and the tissues that line the pelvis. While this tissue is not necessarily dangerous or life-threatening, it can seriously affect the quality of life of many patients, as the area becomes inflamed and painful with the ebb and flow of the menstrual cycle. Endometriosis and side effects from it are also linked to infertility in some women. Read on to learn more about endometriosis, its causes, symptoms, and treatments, and when you should see a doctor if you’re experiencing pelvic pain.
What Causes Endometriosis?
The causes of endometriosis are thought to be genetic. Doctors and researchers believe that this condition is apparent in the tissue of a developing fetus, so endometriosis is even present prior to birth. However, girls or women don’t feel symptoms until puberty, or sometimes well after. It is thought that the condition is triggered by rising estrogen levels within the body, right around the onset of puberty. Endometriosis affects between 6 and 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Many women go undiagnosed because the symptoms can often mimic other conditions or problems. While it is thought that the cause of endometriosis is genetic, its symptoms and their severity are often interlinked with diet, asthma, breast or ovarian cancer, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disease.
What are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Symptoms of endometriosis can be similar to other medical problems, which can often make it tough for women to get a proper diagnosis. Unfortunately, many women struggle for years before they find the right physician who can pinpoint the problem and offer treatment. Common symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Severe menstrual cramps that are not relieved with medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lower back and/or pelvic pain
- Periods of extended duration (7+ days)
- Blood in the stool or urine
- Painful intercourse
- Breakthrough bleeding or spotting
Those with the condition often find temporary relief during pregnancy, as well as an absolution of symptoms as menopause begins. The changes in estrogen levels in the body affect the endometrium growing outside of the uterus and thus, symptoms disappear in many cases.
Most symptoms of endometriosis are quality of life issues. Painful periods, fatigue, and spotting are cumbersome but not serious. However, if left untreated, endometriosis can lead to more painful and serious complications in some women. This is part of why it is important to talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing. It is thought that infertility can occur in up to 50 percent of American women that have endometriosis. Other complications include bladder and intestinal problems, an increased risk of ovarian cancer, inflammation, ovarian cysts, and the development of scar tissue.
What are the Treatments for Endometriosis?
Once you receive a diagnosis, the doctor will want to move forward with endometriosis treatment. Treatment options vary depending on which stage of the condition you are diagnosed with. There are four stages. Stage I is mild and may require no treatment at all; stage II is also mild, with several lesions apparent. Stage III has moderate lesions, and stage IV has multiple, severe, and deep lesions.
For treatment, doctors may initially offer gonadotropin-releasing hormone or other birth control pills to help manage tissue growth and symptoms. Doctors may also recommend fertility treatments for those trying to conceive, as well as surgery for more moderate-to-severe cases.
Your doctor may also advise you to avoid caffeine, which may exacerbate symptoms, or add more dairy to your diet, which is thought to help in some cases. Some mild lifestyle changes are associated with a decrease in symptoms.
If you need more information about endometriosis or would like to be seen by a physician, schedule an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic. We offer Care At Every Life Stage at both our Jackson and Madison locations.