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9 Things You Must Know About Endometriosis by Caroline Coley

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Every month a woman sheds the inner lining of her uterus or endometrium.  The endometrium is a layer of tissue that lines the uterus.  This process is what is known as menstruation or more commonly, a “period.”  Endometriosis occurs when this same tissue grows in other areas outside of the uterus.  The clumps of endometrial tissue found outside of the uterus are called implants.  These implants are usually found on the outer wall of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and intestines.

1.  How does endometriosis cause problems?

This displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would inside the uterus.  The tissue thickens, breaks down, and then bleeds.  The fluid then has nowhere to go and becomes trapped.  These clumps of endometrial cells, or implants, can form scar tissue or fluid-filled sacs known as cysts.  Organs can also become bound together by this tissue through adhesions.

2.  What are the signs and symptoms of endometriosis?

Some women don’t exhibit any symptoms.  Pelvic pain associated with menstruation is often the primary symptom of endometriosis.  Women with this disease describe pain during menstruation that is much worse than usual and pain that increases over time.  Heavy and irregular periods are common.  Pain during intercourse is another symptom.  Pain may also be exhibited in any area where the implants are growing.

3.  What causes endometriosis and can it be prevented?

Experts are unsure of what causes endometrial tissue to grow outside of the uterus and it cannot be prevented.

4.  Does age factor into endometriosis? 

Endometriosis usually begins a few years after menstruation starts.  Studies show that estrogen plays a role in this disease.  High levels of estrogen appear in women during their childbearing years.  This is when endometriosis is most common.

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5.  What are the risk factors associated with endometriosis? 

There are a few factors that put women at a greater risk of developing endometriosis.  These factors are: relative to endometriosis, never giving birth, any uterine abnormality, and a history of pelvic infection. 

6.  How is endometriosis diagnosed? 

The only way to ensure the diagnosis of endometriosis is through a surgery called laparoscopy.  While under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes a tiny incision near the naval and inserts a laparoscope to search for endometrial tissue outside of the uterus.  Sample tissue may be taken for further testing.  Since this method is invasive and requires anesthesia, a doctor might first prescribe medication and begin a treatment plan to see if symptoms can be relieved without a laparoscopy diagnosis.

7.  How is endometriosis treated? 

There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are very effective treatments.  Endometriosis is treated through medication or surgery.  Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or NSAID drugs can be used to reduce bleeding and pain.  Birth control pills can also be used to shrink implants and reduce pain.  Along with birth control, other types of hormone therapies are used.  Surgery is another option for treatment.  This is done laparoscopically to remove implants and scar tissue.  This may also help with pain reduction.  As a last resort, some women may choose to have their uterus and ovaries removed.  This is usually only in cases of extreme pain.

8.  Does endometriosis lead to infertility?

A common complication of endometriosis is impaired fertility.  Usually, this equates to women having a difficult time getting pregnant. One-third to half of the women with endometriosis have increased difficulty conceiving.  Most women with endometriosis can still get pregnant and carry a baby to full term.       

9.  Are there any at-home remedies? 

Applying heat to the lower pelvic region helps reduce pain and lessen cramping.  Applying a hot water bottle, or taking a warm bath may be useful.  Exercising regularly improves blood flow, which in turn reduces pelvic pain.  Endorphins released through exercise might also be helpful.

Endometriosis occurs during a woman’s fertile years.  It often begins several years after the initial menstruation.  Some women experience severe pain during menstruation, which alerts them to the presence of this disorder.  Other women don’t experience any symptoms and only find they have endometriosis when they have a difficult time conceiving.  While there is no cure for endometriosis, it is often successfully treated with hormone therapy and over-the-counter pain medications.






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