Endometriosis is a medical condition that happens when the tissue lining the inside of a woman’s uterus (or the endometrium) develops outside of the uterus. Endometriosis commonly occurs in organs located in the lower abdomen, including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the tissue lining of the pelvis. But it can also appear in different parts of the body.
The best way to confirm if you have endometriosis is to consult your ob-gyn, who may recommend a laparoscopy procedure. It is a minimally invasive surgery wherein a doctor accesses the inside of the abdomen to view and biopsy endometriosis lesions. When your doctor confirms you have endometriosis, a treatment will be advised based on the severity of your condition.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Pain can occur during menstruation, intercourse, and bowel movements. These symptoms can be constant or get worse before and during the mentioned periods but eventually improve.
Typically, endometrial tissue builds up in the uterus walls to prepare it for a possible pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the excess tissue is shed during the menstrual cycle. When you have endometriosis, the tissue formed outside the uterus is also shed, which causes inflammation and irritation on the surrounding organs. Additionally, this irritation can cause scar tissue to develop on the affected organs, contributing to the pain.
Aside from abdominal pain, other symptoms of endometriosis are infertility, abnormal vaginal bleeding, constipation, pain with urination, and bloating. However, some women with this disorder may not show any symptoms.
Causes of Endometriosis
Medical experts are uncertain about the exact cause of endometriosis, but several possible explanations include:
Menstrual blood is meant to be expelled from the body through the vagina. But, in retrograde menstruation, the blood flows back to the fallopian tubes and into the abdominal cavity. According to this theory, the endometrial cells found in the blood attach to the pelvic walls. Then, they grow and thicken and continue to bleed each menstrual cycle.
This is the best explanation for endometriosis found in unusual body areas, like the knee and thumb. This type of endometriosis occurs when cells outside of the uterus transform into ones that line the uterus. Endometriosis can develop far from the uterus. The endometrium can be transported to distant organs and locations by the blood vessels and lymphatic system.
Surgical scar implantation
It’s also possible that endometriosis accidentally spreads when women undergo surgery, like a Cesarean section. In such an instance, women can develop endometriosis from the scar where they had an abdominal incision.
Treating Endometriosis Pain
The factors to consider in treating endometriosis symptoms include age, the severity of symptoms, and the extent of the disease in your body. Since every woman is different, the treatment can also vary. But the most common ones are pain medication, hormone therapy, and surgical treatment.
Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription drugs can treat mild symptoms of endometriosis. The most common type of pain relievers used is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen.
In some cases, medications that control a woman’s hormones can also help alleviate endometriosis pain. These medications are oral contraceptive pills or birth control pills and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) medicine.
Birth control pills can help shorten and regularize the menstrual period, providing relief from endometriosis pain. This kind of treatment can continue indefinitely, depending on your symptoms. Some women no longer experience pain years after stopping the treatment.
On the other hand, taking GnRH medicines can prevent menstruation and ovulation. Because this stops the production of certain hormones, endometrial tissue also stops growing and starts shrinking. This hormone therapy can also put women’s bodies into a menopausal state, which can be reversed once the medication is stopped. When women stop taking GnRH medicines, their menstruation begins, and they can become pregnant.
Aside from diagnosing endometriosis, laparoscopy can also be used to treat the medical condition. A doctor makes small incisions in the woman’s abdomen to remove or burn endometriosis lesions. At times, surgeons will also use this opportunity to remove scar tissue since it can contribute to the pain associated with endometriosis. Using laparoscopy to treat women with mild or minimal endometriosis can increase their pregnancy chances. They can also improve fertility after surgery through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Another surgical procedure to treat endometriosis is laparotomy. In this major abdominal surgery, the surgeon removes endometriosis patches. If the damage is severe, the surgeon may also perform a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. This process involves removing the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. When a woman undergoes this surgical procedure, she can no longer become pregnant.
Many healthcare providers only recommend women to undergo major surgery as a last resort in treating endometriosis.
Endometriosis can often be a painful disorder. Fortunately, there are various medical treatments to help alleviate the symptoms. However, keep in mind that every condition is different, and treatment needs to be individualized to have the best treatment. Therefore, if you feel any symptoms related to endometriosis, seek immediate help from your health care provider.