Endometriosis is when the tissue that typically lines the inside of your uterus grows beyond its walls, migrating to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the inside of the pelvic region. In some rare cases, it may extend past these areas.
About 200 million women worldwide are affected by this painful condition – about one in 10 American women feeling its effects, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
When you have your period, the endometrial tissue thickens, before ultimately breaking down and exiting the body with blood during the menstrual cycle. However, when this tissue spreads to areas not meant to host it, it has no way to release itself and this can lead to a host of harmful issues such as irritation, scar tissue formation, and adhesions.
An inflammatory disease, endometriosis is triggered by estrogen, the female hormone associated with reproductive cycles. Other hormonal issues such as progesterone resistance and immune system dysfunction are other correlated problems.
The jury is still out on the exact cause of endometriosis, but researchers have pinpointed a variety of factors that contribute to it. Endometriosis is hereditary – with genetics being the most likely culprit; women who have a close female relative with endometriosis are five to seven times more likely to experience it themselves.
No matter what the underlying source of endometriosis, most women who experience it will have unusual pain during their periods. The discomfort is so debilitating and prolonged (up to two weeks), some people have gone so far as to call them “killer cramps.” Pain in the lower abdomen before and during the cycle, heavier than normal bleeding, uncomfortable bowel movements, lower back pain, and infertility can occur. Around half of all women with endometriosis will suffer from infertility issues.
In some cases, there are no symptoms at all, which can be dangerous as the uterine lining spreads. For this reason, most women go undiagnosed; recent statistics estimate that it can take around 10 years to receive a diagnosis.
One of the best ways to prevent gynecological disorders and future complications is by having regularly scheduled check-ups by a gynecologist.
Today, there are a host of treatments designed to address endometriosis: from medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to more potent prescriptions to quell the pain, and hormone therapies such as the introduction of birth control.
Particularly painful cases may require more invasive methods such as a hysterectomy, which involves the removal of both ovaries. Diagnostic procedures such as surgical laparoscopy, which utilizes a mini camera with affixed light, will give your physician a clear view into the affected area.
Remember: some cramping is to be expected during your menstrual cycle; but, if you’re suffering from severe pain, you may benefit from the help of a pain specialist. The experts at Balcones Pain Consultants treat chronic pelvic pain using a multidisciplinary approach and will craft a personalized plan that works for your needs. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (512) 834-4141.