Endometriosis: An Overview

Endometriosis: An Overview of Symptoms and Treatments

Endometriosis is a sometimes painful condition that affects anywhere from 3% to 18% of the female population that has reached reproductive age. The reason for the variance in percentage is that while some women experience debilitating pain, others have no discomfort at all. Pelvic pain, lower back pain, leg pain, painful periods, painful bowel movements, and pain during intercourse are the most common symptoms associated with endometriosis.

The definition of endometriosis is the growth of endometrial cells outside of the uterus. These cells are normally shed during menstruation. But when a woman has endometriosis, these cells can attach themselves to the pelvic lining, fallopian tubes, ovaries, outer surface of the uterus, intestines, bladder, cervix, and/or vagina.

The cause of endometriosis is unknown, although family history can play a role. Retrograde menstruation, or backflow after ovulation into the pelvic region, is also believed to lead to this condition (though it is important to note that all women experience retrograde menstruation, but not all women develop endometriosis as a result). Some experts consider an immune deficiency to be another possible source. Additional studies suggest that women with endometriosis may have cells that are premature and thus more susceptible to implantation outside the uterus.

Often, endometriosis is not diagnosed until a female has begun her menstrual cycle during puberty. However, it has been detected in girls as young as 11. Diagnosis can be very challenging, sometimes taking years to uncover because endometriosis symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions. Accordingly, many doctors may be slow to pick up on it or they may misdiagnose it altogether, perhaps as an infection or pelvic inflammatory disease, for example. Endometriosis symptoms are also regularly dismissed as cramps or just part of the menstrual process. Sadly, many women believe their pain is normal and that they must suffer through it.

Proper diagnosis is very important, though, especially because endometriosis can be quite serious. For approximately 40% of those diagnosed, it can pose problems with conception. In severe cases, it can lead to infertility. Because the pelvis is inflamed, the body produces extra fluid that can be toxic to the egg and/or the sperm coming to meet it. Also, the uterine lining in a woman with endometriosis is not as receptive to implantation.

Treatment for endometriosis can be life changing. It can involve laparoscopic surgery to treat or remove the endometrial lesions, or it can require a total hysterectomy. Often, women have several procedures to try to alleviate the pain and preserve their fertility.

If you have chronic pelvic pain or painful menstruation, contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.