Updated: Apr 10, 2021
Women are at risk for a number of illnesses facing their reproductive systems, oftentimes these illnesses are characterized by similar symptoms and sometimes they are misdiagnosed. Endometriosis is one such common illness that is too often misdiagnosed and when left untreated, can cause significant damage to you and your reproductive system. So what exactly is endometriosis?
Endometriosis usually affects women 25-40 years old but the symptoms of the disorder can start from as early as puberty. It is a fairly common disorder affecting up to 10% of women in the population. The exact cause is unknown but there are several different theories on why it happens, including genetics and retrograde menstruation. The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium. When this lining of your uterus grows outside of the uterine cavity, it is known as endometriosis. Endometrial tissue can grow on your ovaries, the tissues lining your pelvis, your bladder and even your bowels. This trapped tissue can cause irritation, scar formation, adhesions and causes severe pain especially during your periods. It often leads to fertility problems in 30 - 50% of women with the condition.
Endometriosis can be characterized by painful periods, pain during intercourse, pain with bowel movements or urination, excessive bleeding during and possibly between periods and infertility. Some of these symptoms are similar to other reproductive disorders such as ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease. In accurately treating your symptoms and discomfort, doctors must ensure that they have a definitive diagnosis. Many times women experiencing moderate to severe pains during their periods are ignored or are told the pain is “normal”, and this leads to a delay in diagnosing the condition.
In order to fully diagnose you with endometriosis your doctor will take a thorough history and perform a physical exam, and may recommend imaging such as an ultrasound or MRI. minimally invasive surgery known as a laparoscopy. The definitive way to identify endometriosis is by viewing it directly, which is done by a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. Once diagnosed, the tissue can be removed in the same procedure.
A main complication of endometriosis is having fertility issues. Data shows that about 30-40% of women with this disorder have difficulty getting pregnant. However, it is not impossible and if you have a milder form you may be able to conceive and carry a baby to full term. If you are having fertility issues it can be helpful to consult with your doctor to rule out endometriosis as the cause.
Treatment options for endometriosis include methods of controlling the symptoms and making you, the patient, more comfortable and able to carry on your daily activities. These options include: pain medication, hormone therapy, hormonal contraceptives and for more severe cases, conservative surgery such as laparoscopy (to remove the endometriosis tissue).
While there is no cure for endometriosis and no definite reason why it happens, what is certain is that those who are living with the disorder live with a chronic illness and are often in a great deal of pain for long periods of time. The good news is that the symptoms can usually be managed well through different treatments to help to improve your quality of life. If you believe you have signs or symptoms suggesting endometriosis, please speak to your doctor to discuss your options and get the support you need. Check out my YouTube video to hear the experience of a patient living with endometriosis:
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