What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a common health problem that occurs when endometrial tissue, similar to the tissue that lines the uterus, grows in areas of the body where it doesn't belong. Endometriosis affects 10 to 15 percent of individuals of childbearing age and is most common in their 30s and 40s. There are three common types of endometriosis. Surface endometriosis consists of small implants of tissue that grow on the many surfaces of the pelvis. Endometriomas are a specific type of cyst that form on the ovaries. Deep infiltrating endometriosis forms between the rectum and vagina.
Most often, endometriosis is found on the:
- Surfaces of the pelvis
- Fallopian tubes
- Bladder or bowels
- Outer surface of the uterus
Women and individuals at higher risk for endometriosis include those who:
- Began their periods before age 11
- Experience heavy periods that last more than seven days
- Have an abnormal vagina, uterus or fallopian tubes
- Have a family history of endometriosis
Signs and Symptoms
Endometriosis can be a debilitating and very painful condition that can lower a person’s quality of life.
It can be difficult to distinguish endometriosis symptoms because the pain it causes may occur around the same time as a person’s menstrual cycle.
Common symptoms to watch for include:
- Severe pain with periods
- Heavy periods
- Deep pelvic pain during intercourse
- Pain during bowel movements or urination
- Lightheadedness or nausea during periods
- Digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea or vomiting
- Chronic fatigue
It’s important to note pelvic pain can also be caused by many other conditions, including pelvic floor muscle disorders, urinary and vaginal infections and bowel disorders.
The definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery in which a surgeon takes a tissue sample and studies it under a microscope to confirm endometriosis. This surgery also gives the physician information about extent and size of the endometriosis implants and lesions.
Pelvic exams and other imaging studies (ultrasounds, CT or MRI) also may be used to look certain types of endometriosis. Superficial endometriosis cannot be diagnosed with imaging. However, endometriomas and deep infiltrating endometriosis can often be seen on imaging.
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments available that can bring relief. Your provider will consider several factors when determining the best treatment for your endometriosis symptoms. Some of the factors considered include your age, the severity of your symptoms and disease, and whether you plan to have children.
Treatments for endometriosis include:
- Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Hormone therapy to lighten, skip or even stop a menstrual cycle
- Medication to decrease the amount of hormones your body produces to halt the growth of endometriosis
- Laparoscopic surgical excision to remove endometriosis lesions, nodules, and endometriomas
- Physical therapy to reduce muscle pain and nerve blocks to decrease pelvic pain
- Complementary therapies like diet alterations, acupuncture, chiropractic care or massage
- Removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries
For more information on endometriosis, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists by calling 330.375.4094