Endometriosis – Symptoms and Treatment

Woman suffering from endometriosis pain

This month, our women’s health focus centers on endometriosis awareness and education. As we begin National Endometriosis Awareness Month, it is important to be aware of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options associated with endometriosis, a condition which affects 6.5 million U.S. women, or over 11% of U.S. women age 15 through 44.

Endometriosis primarily afflicts women who are of child-bearing age, making it a prime cause of infertility, as it directly affects one in every two women who face difficulties in becoming pregnant.

It’s important to understand and recognize its symptoms and know treatment options available, especially if you wish to increase your likelihood of pregnancy.

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue, the same tissue lining the uterus, grows outside the womb. The tissue outside the uterus may develop into growths, which may swell or bleed in the same manner as tissue within the uterus during menstrual cycle.

Growths are often benign but can cause significant problems when they expand, including:

  • Blockage of fallopian tubes – when growths cover or grow into the ovaries, cysts can result from trapped blood within the ovaries
  • Inflammation
  • Scar tissue formation or adhesions (tissue that may bind organs)
  • Intestinal and bladder problems

There are no known causes for endometriosis, but researchers think it may be linked to several possible factors:

  • Problems with menstrual flow -- when tissue shed from the uterus flows through fallopian tubes into other regions of the body such as the pelvis (known as retrograde menstrual flow)
  • Genetics – Endometriosis may run in families, therefore increasing risk
  • Immune system problems – when the immune system fails to find and destroy endometrial tissue growing outside the uterus
  • Hormones – the female hormone estrogen may promote the condition
  • Surgery – specifically surgeries within the abdominal area may inadvertently shift endometrial tissue

You may have greater endometriosis risk if you:

  • Never had children
  • Experience extended menstrual cycles beyond one week in length
  • Have shortened menstrual cycles that are 27 days or less
  • Have a relative (mother, sister or aunt) who has been diagnosed
  • Have a health issue blocking normal menstrual flow during your period

Endometriosis Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Extremely painful menstrual cramps
  • Chronic lower back and/or pelvic pain
  • Feelings of deep pain during or after intercourse
  • Intestinal pain
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements while experiencing menstrual cycle. In rare instances, blood in either stool or urine may occur.
  • Bleeding or spotting between menstrual cycles. If occurring regularly, see your physician.
  • Infertility issues
  • Digestive problems (diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and nausea), especially during menstrual cycle

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of developing endometriosis through lowering the body’s estrogen levels, as estrogen is the hormone responsible for thickening the uterine tissue lining during the menstrual cycle.

Reduce Your Risk

To reduce endometriosis risk:

  • Talk with your doctor about hormonal treatment or birth control featuring lower estrogen doses.
  • Get more than four hours of regular exercise every week. Having a lower percentage of body fat decreases the amount of estrogen circulating throughout the body.
  • Avoid large intake of alcohol and caffeine since both can raise estrogen levels. Women should partake of no more than one drink/day featuring alcohol and caffeine.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms associated with endometriosis, whether you are experiencing infertility issues while planning to conceive, excruciating pain during your menstrual cycle, or symptoms while taking prescribed menopausal hormone therapy, see your doctor.

A pelvic exam and imaging tests (ultrasound or MRI) aid in diagnosis. Tissue sampling and/or laparoscopic surgery may also be recommended.

Your physician may also prescribe certain medications. If you are not trying to become pregnant, hormonal birth control is often prescribed to regulate estrogen levels. If you are trying to conceive, your doctor may prescribe gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRH.)  If you find your pain lessens while you are taking prescribed hormonal treatments to regulate your estrogen level, it is likely you may have endometriosis.

Ibuprofen may also be recommended to alleviate pain.

Contact your Capital Women’s Care team if you have any questions or concerns about endometriosis, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, or experiencing infertility issues.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.

 

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