What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a gynecologic condition that occurs when endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the uterus, affecting the surrounding pelvic structures, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the pelvis. As displaced tissue continues to act as it normally would (thickening, breaking down, and bleeding), it becomes trapped.
Without an exit point from the body, surrounding areas become inflamed or swollen over time, and scar tissues and cysts can form. It’s estimated that endometriosis affects more than 11% of menstruating women in the United States between the ages of 15 to 44.
Much like fibroids and adenomyosis, endometriosis can cause pelvic pain, severe menstrual cramps, and abnormal or heavy bleeding during periods. Many women with endometriosis report experiencing the following symptoms:
Left untreated, this chronic condition worsens, compromising the reproductive organs and pelvic structure. Fertility issues, pain, and other complications escalate over time. Luckily, medical and surgical treatment options are available once a diagnosis is made.
Causes & Risks
The exact cause of endometriosis is not known. However, it’s believed to be caused by retrograde menstruation, a condition in which a woman’s menstrual flow (which contains endometrial cells) moves backwards into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. The displaced endometrial cells then stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs.
Any woman can develop endometriosis. However, biologically, there are several known risk factors that increase a woman’s odds of developing this condition. These risk factors include:
- Endometriosis is about four to seven times more likely to develop in a woman with a first-degree relative has endometriosis than the general population.
Unusual menstrual cycle characteristics
Abnormal menstruation problems are associated with a higher risk of developing endometriosis, including the following:
- Early menarche – The onset of period at an early age (typically before age 11).
- Periods that last longer than a week.
- Periods that occur less than 27 days apart.
- Dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation and severe cramps.
- In a meta-analysis of 11 studies aiming to identify a correlation between body mass index and endometriosis risk, the results concluded that women with a high body mass index are at higher risk for developing endometriosis.
Never giving birth
- Women who have never given birth have a higher risk of developing endometriosis than those who have successfully conceived a child.
- Women who have any medical condition that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow out of the body are at greater risk for developing endometriosis.
- In advanced stages, pelvic tissue can fuse with organs and distort the internal anatomy. Fertility problems can also occur.
- Prolonged or profuse menstrual bleeding experienced by women with endometriosis can sometimes cause a woman to become anemic, a condition often caused by an iron deficiency.
Diagnosis & Care
Because the physical clues for endometriosis look a lot like other gynecological conditions, such as uterine polyps, adenomyosis, and fibroids, a clinical diagnosis must be determined by a specialist or OB/GYN.
To accurately diagnose endometriosis, a physician typically conducts a medical history, then orders a course of tests that may include a pelvic exam, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or laparoscopy. In some cases, women have both endometriosis and fibroids.
That’s why Viva Eve recommends that women who have not already received a confirmed diagnosis explaining their symptoms discuss their condition with a fibroid expert who can diagnose one or both conditions as the cause.
Once endometriosis and any other co-occurring conditions are diagnosed, a specialist can help you chart a course of treatment based on the progression of your condition and your own individual circumstances.
Hormone therapy suppresses the hormones responsible for the buildup of endometrial tissue each month. This treatment will prevent your menstrual period, lower your estrogen levels, and cause endometrial tissue to shrink. However, as a by-product of the treatment, women experience artificial menopause.
Other medical procedures that remove tissues include cauterization, ablation, electrocoagulation, and endometrial ablation.
Without medical intervention, endometriosis can progress into a severely debilitating disorder. If you’re experiencing menstrual irregularities and painful period symptoms, seek a clinical opinion at Viva Eve to get a diagnosis and find the best treatment options that fit your needs.