The women who have endometriosis feel it during March and every other month out of the year; however, during the month of March, globally there is awareness brought to the topic of endometriosis, so that people can better understand the condition and how it affects not only women but also their families, during their most fertile years. Read on to learn more about endometriosis, which causes the condition, and how you can help participate in endometriosis awareness for the month of March.
How to Be a Part of Endometriosis Awareness
Whether you’re a patient, a provider, or an ally, if you want to know more about endometriosis or just want to spread awareness, there are events going on globally, or there may even be one in your town. The biggest event in the United States is The Endometriosis Summit, which takes place every year at the end of February or beginning of March. Every year the event is held in Hoboken, New Jersey, so if you’re reading this after March 2020, no worries - you can register next year! Other things you can due include wearing yellow during the month of March or wear a yellow ribbon to show your support.
More About Endometriosis
Perhaps you’ve heard about endometriosis but aren’t quite sure what it is, if you’re at risk for it, or if you should be worried about it. It is a condition that only affects women, and it affects women during their reproductive years when they are of childbearing age. The lining of your uterus is made of a material known as the endometrium. In some women, instead of this material growing on the inside of the uterus where it is supposed to grow and remain, it grows on the outside of the uterine cavity instead. This condition is known as endometriosis.
Instead of growing on the inside of the uterus, instead, the endometrium grows on the ovaries, the tissues lining the pelvis or the bowels, or it may grow on all three, in addition to other areas. It is rare for the endometrium to spread beyond the pelvic region, but it is possible and has occurred in some patients.
Just as your menstrual cycle would cause the endometrium to be affected if it were lining the uterus, the changes in the menstrual cycle cause the displaced endometrium to be affected as well. However, because the material is displaced (known technically as an endometrial implant), the areas with endometrial tissue can become painful and inflamed, which can cause serious discomfort. This tissue will grow, become thick, and break down, but instead of breaking down in the uterus where it should, it will become trapped in the pelvic region. This is at the point where endometriosis becomes more than just a quality of life issue and can cause other problems.
At the very least, it is likely to cause incredibly painful periods, irritation and scar formation. Other problems that may occur include the binding of pelvic organs together and infertility, which are more serious issues. Endometriosis affects up to 10 percent of women, and there are treatment options available.
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Like many other conditions, some women experience severe symptoms of endometriosis, while others experience milder symptoms or none at all. It’s a good rule of thumb that if you feel something is a little “off,” even if you’re only feeling a mild discomfort, to let your OB/GYN or general practitioner know. It’s always better to be safe when it comes to medical conditions and diagnoses.
The most common symptom of endometriosis is painful periods, although some women may never experience this symptom, or may have mild discomfort while menstruating. Other symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse
- Heavy menstruation or bleeding between periods
- Lower back pain at any time during the month
- Discomfort with bowel movements
- Cramps one to two weeks prior to menstruation
- Infertility or trouble conceiving
Because some women experience no endometriosis symptoms at all, this is another reason to stay current with your gynecological exams. Your gynecologist will be able to monitor any changes in your condition with regular exams, even if you’re not experiencing pain or discomfort.
Endometriosis Risk Factors and Causes
Doctors and researchers are still not entirely sure what causes endometriosis, although there are several theories. During a regular menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus is shed through the vagina, with menstrual blood. One theory is that, in a process called retrograde menstruation, the uterus lining is shed through the fallopian tubes instead. Another theory is that the lining leaks into the pelvic cavity somehow. Whatever its root cause, endometriosis certainly poses a quality of life issue for those who have pain or discomfort and more serious problems for those who experience problems trying to conceive.
Because the exact cause isn’t known, risk factors for endometriosis can also be tough to pinpoint. The age of onset for endometriosis is most commonly age 25 to 40, although it can onset at puberty. Anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of all women of childbearing age have endometriosis. Problems with menstruating seem to correlate with endometriosis, such as heavy periods, longer periods, or having a period at a young age. Pregnancy seems to decrease endometriosis risk temporarily.
If you receive a diagnosis, there are treatment options available. It does depend on what stage of endometriosis you’re diagnosed with and if you’re being treated for pain only, or infertility as well. There are four stages of the condition: minimal, mild, moderate, and severe. If your case is minimal, your doctor may suggest NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, for first-line therapy. Other options for pain relief include hormone therapy, which can also stop the progression of endometriosis. Hormonal contraceptives are also an option for those who are not trying to conceive.
Taking gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is also an option for those who are not trying to conceive. This medication essentially “tricks” the body into menopause, so hot flashes or vaginal dryness may be a side effect, but GnRH is one of the better endometriosis treatments.
For patients who do want to conceive, laparoscopic surgery is an option to help treat endometriosis. It can remove endometrial tissue from unwanted places with a small laser. More invasive surgery, such as hysterectomy, can be used in more severe cases. Infertility treatments are also available for those who are having trouble conceiving. If you need more information on endometriosis or would like to be evaluated by a physician, request an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. Our caring and professional team of doctors, nurses, and support staff is here to help with your health and medical care.