Pelvic pain. Severe menstrual cramps and flow. Bowel or bladder discomfort. Nausea or vomiting. Infertility. For the 176 million women worldwide who have endometriosis, a disease with no known cause, life can be challenging. And endometriosis is equal opportunity, impacting women similarly across racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. In honor of National Endometriosis Awareness Month, Supplementally Speaking takes a closer look at the disease.
Pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis and 75 percent of those diagnosed report varied degrees of severity. Other symptoms include heavy and/or long periods, severe menstrual cramps, pain with intercourse, pain in the lower abdomen, pain with bowel movements or urination and infertility.
Surgery is the only way to diagnose endometriosis definitively, but ultrasounds and MRI may be used while evaluating symptoms. The most common surgery performed is laparoscopy, a procedure in which a physician views the pelvic organs through small incisions in the abdomen.
There is no cure for endometriosis, but a physician can determine a course of treatment for endometriosis symptoms after considering a woman’s symptom severity, family plans, age and the severity of the disease itself. Treatment options include:
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, endometriosis can be found in up to 50 percent of infertile women. Researchers believe endometriosis alters the pelvic environment in some combination of ways that results in infertility for these women. While surgical or medical treatment of endometriosis does not seem to correlate to increased fertility, many women do go onto become pregnant following surgical and/or medical intervention.
There has been much research on the cause of endometriosis but at this point, it remains unknown. Factors that may increase a woman’s risk of the condition include a family history of the disease, immune system dysfunction that prevents the body from destroying misplaced endometrial tissue, possible progesterone resistance of the endometrium and exposure to chemicals, like dioxin, all show possible links to endometriosis.
If you or a loved one suffers from pelvic pain or endometriosis, seek the care of a qualified specialist. While symptoms may decrease during pregnancy or following menopause, endometriosis can persist and requires lifelong medical management.