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What Is Endometriosis and What Are Its Symptoms?

Endometriosis is fairly common, affecting more than 200,000 women in the U.S. each year. The condition occurs when the lining of the uterus (womb) begins to grow outside of the uterus. Endometriosis develops in the pelvic cavity and can attach to any of the female reproductive organs, including the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, peritoneum, uterosacral ligaments, or any of the spaces between the uterus, bladder, rectum, and vagina. While some women with endometriosis may not experience any symptoms at all, many will have pain with periods, lower abdominal pain, pain with intercourse, or difficulty getting pregnant.

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an incurable gynecological condition that can be managed with the help of a healthcare professional. With endometriosis, tissues that are normally found within the uterus present on other areas of the body. Over time, these tissues begin to thicken and breakdown, affecting menstrual cycle hormones. Adhesions and scar tissue can also form, causing anatomical changes and organ fusion. Normally, the lining of the uterus is expelled during menstruation. With endometriosis tissues are not expelled.

The causes of endometriosis are still unknown. However, one theory suggests that the condition may start during the menstruation cycle when tissue backs up through the fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. From there, the tissue attaches and grows. Another common theory suggests that the tissue travels and implants via lymphatic or blood channels. In some cases, endometriosis can occur through direct transplantation, such as after a cesarean section.

What are the Risk Factors of Endometriosis?

Some women are more prone to developing endometriosis than others. You may be at an increased risk for this condition if you:

  • Have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, etc.) with the condition
  • Are white
  • Gave birth for the first time after age 30
  • Have an abdominal uterus

What are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?

It’s normal for different women to experience varying degrees of symptoms. While some women may have just one or two symptoms, others may experience many side effects of endometriosis. However, it is important to have a solid diagnosis for your condition by a healthcare professional as endometriosis can mimic other medical conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ovarian cysts.

Some of the most common symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Pain (often in the form of intense menstrual cramps felt in the lower back or abdomen) that is not relieved by NSAIDS
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Heavy or abnormal menstrual flow (periods lasting longer than 7 days)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Bloody urine or stool
  • Urinary or bowel problems, such as pain, constipation, diarrhea, or bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility
  • Bleeding or spotting during periods

How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?

There is currently no single test that can be performed to evaluate endometriosis, making it difficult to form a solid diagnosis. Most healthcare professionals confirm the condition by performing a procedure known as a surgical laparoscopy. During the minimally invasive procedure, a lighted thin tube is led through an incision in the pelvic area. The tube contains a camera that allows the surgeon to look for lesions.

In some cases, other types of tests may be used to help diagnosis endometriosis, such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan. If endometriosis is confirmed, the condition is usually categorized based on severity.

  • Stage 1: Lesions are minimal
  • Stage 2: Lesions are mild
  • Stage 3: Lesions are moderate
  • Stage 4: Lesions are severe

What Is the Treatment for Endometriosis?

Treatment for endometriosis usually starts with pain medications to manage any discomfort. Hormone therapy may be recommended in some instances. When alternative treatments are not effective, surgery may be needed to remove the areas of endometriosis. If a woman is trying to conceive, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended. It’s important to discuss a treatment plan with your doctor to ensure that you are taking the right steps towards recovery.

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