March is Endometriosis Awareness Month.
Endometriosis affects one in ten women globally in their lifetimes, regardless of their social position or ethnicity. This condition causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. The tissue primarily develops on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and pelvis. The trapped tissue causes painful symptoms such as pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, and infertility.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Much like fibroids, the definitive cause of endometriosis is unknown. However, the origin of endometriosis is believed to have multiple factors that contribute to its development. The current hypotheses are:
- Menstrual blood rich with endometrial cells surges back toward the fallopian tubes and into the pelvis depositing these cells outside of the uterus. The cells then implant and grow. This is called retrograde menstruation.
- Cells morph into endometrial-like cells outside of the uterus, called cellular metaplasia.
- Stem cells spread endometrial cells through the body through the blood and lymphatic system.
Several other factors are thought to promote the development and growth of endometriosis lesions. Endometriosis may be tied to genetic disposition, immune system dysfunction, or environmental contaminates. Overproduction of estrogen may also be a factor in the development of this condition. Estrogen can trigger the inflammation, growth, and pain associated with endometriosis. However, endometriosis can exist minus excessive estrogen.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Endometriosis can cause painful urination or bowel movements, chronic fatigue, bleeding, or pain between periods. These symptoms overlap with other conditions, which can be confused with other uterine disorders. A routine pelvic exam or imaging tests are necessary to verify a diagnosis.
Another prevalent symptom of endometriosis is infertility. Endometriosis can affect your fertility in several ways.
- Adhesions in the uterus prevent embryo implantation
- Altered function of hormones and cells
- Blockage in the fallopian tube
- Ovaries that stick to the pelvic lining or each other, restricting their movement
- Scarring in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or pelvis
Since endometriosis shares similar symptoms with uterine fibroids, it can be misdiagnosed. Many people with endometriosis or fibroids think their symptoms are just a part of normal menstruation and PMS. Unfortunately, this idea may cause women to wait years before seeking treatment. A recent study conducted by the Endometriosis Foundation of America stated that the average wait time for diagnosis was between eight to ten years.
Take our symptom quiz to determine if it may be endometriosis or fibroids.
Treatments for Endometriosis
Living with endometriosis can be a daily battle, affecting a woman’s social, personal, and future life. When the symptoms become unmanageable hormonal therapies are prescribed, such as birth control, Gn-RH hormones, progestin therapy, or aromatase inhibitors. These therapies are not a cure. They are only effective as long as the patient is on the treatment. Surgery to remove the endometrial tissue may also be recommended by your physician.
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