Of all women’s reproductive health disorders, endometriosis is the most common, affecting one in ten women in the U.S.
Despite its frequency, endometriosis often takes a long time to diagnose by OB/GYNs and other well woman care providers. Part of the problem may be that women are unaware of the signs of endometriosis– they may be suffering through these symptoms assuming they are an unavoidable part of their menstrual cycle.
Knowing exactly what endometriosis is and its symptoms can make women more aware of their own health, which can help their doctor in correctly and quickly diagnosing any problems.
What Causes Endometriosis
Endometrium is the type of tissue that lines the uterus. It is the tissue that responds to a woman’s hormones and thickens in the uterus in preparation for a pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, this lining is shed through blood during the monthly menstrual cycle. Endometriosis occurs when this endometrium tissue grows outside of the uterus where it should not. No one is exactly sure why this process occurs, though researchers know that it is linked to a woman’s hormones as well as to her autoimmune system.
The endometrial tissue may grow on the outside of the uterus, rectum, or pelvic floor; on the ligaments supporting the uterus; on the fallopian tubes or ovaries; or in the area between the vagina or rectum.
Even though this tissue is not in the uterus, it still responds to a woman’s monthly hormonal cycle– it grows in preparation of pregnancy and sheds when it doesn’t occur. When this process occurs outside the walls of the uterus, it can lead to what is called an endometrial growth. A growth is basically scar tissues that have formed and grown together. The growths may also be called lesions, implants, nodule or tumors. These “tumors”, however, are benign and NOT cancerous.
In addition to growths, cysts and inflammation can occur, and all of this can cause severe, sometimes debilitating pain.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Not all women who suffer from endometriosis suffer symptoms, but usually a woman will experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Heavy Periods
- Painful Periods or Ovulation, including cramping and/or low back pain
- Pain during or following sexual activity
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should talk to your OB/GYN or other well woman care provider. Your health care provider can help you manage and treat the symptoms of endometriosis, including infertility. Catching endometriosis early can help preserve a woman’s fertility.
Treatment options range from pain medication to hormonal options to surgeries. Your doctor will assess the severity of your endometriosis and help you come up with an appropriate treatment plan depending on the severity of your symptoms and if you are planning on having children in the near or distant future.
While endometriosis is technically incurable, it is treatable through a wide range of options. If you experience any signs of endometriosis, contact your healthcare provider so that you can get a diagnosis and treatment plan started as soon as possible.