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About Endometriosis

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Over five million women in the United States suffer from endometriosis. Most common in women in their 30s and 40s, it can occur in any woman who menstruates, and is one of the most common health problems experienced by women.

The word “endometriosis” comes from the word “endometrium,” the name for the lining of the uterus. Endometriosis is the condition in which this tissue is found growing in locations outside the uterus, such as the outside of the uterus, the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, or elsewhere.

Endometriosis Symptoms

Endometriosis often causes lower abdominal or pelvic pain, or lower back pain, mostly during the menstrual period. The amount of pain the woman experiences is not necessarily linked to the extent of the endometriosis; some women experience a lot of pain with just a few small growths, and other women may experience little to no pain even though large areas of their bodies are affected.

Other symptoms can include painful sexual intercourse, painful urination or bowel movements, bleeding between periods, infertility, fatigue, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Endometriosis is not cancerous, but it can still present a number of problems. Growths can expand month by month, causing increasing symptoms. Untreated, endometriosis can cause scar tissue, inflammation, and increasing pain. It can block the fallopian tubes; it can grow into the ovaries. Cysts can form as a result of blood trapped in the ovaries. Adhesions, tissue that can bind organs together, can form as a result of scar tissue.

Risk Factors for Endometriosis

Women who have never had children, have longer than normal periods, shorter than normal cycles, a family history of the disease, and cellular damage caused by a previous pelvic infection are at higher risk for developing endometriosis.

The cause of endometriosis isn’t well understood, but theories include:

  • Genetics
  • Immune system disorders
  • Endocrine system disorders
  • Unintended relocation of uterine tissue during surgery
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Reflux of endometrial tissue into the abdomen during a woman’s period

Diagnosis and Treatment of Endometriosis

Be sure to talk to your gynecologist if you have symptoms of endometriosis. Your doctor will most likely want to perform certain tests, such as a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, and/or exploratory surgery.

If endometriosis is found, there is no cure, but a number of treatments are available that can help with symptoms such as pain and infertility. Your doctor should inform you of your options and help you select the ones that best suit your individual condition.

Pain medications, hormone treatments such as birth control pills or GnRH agonists and antagonists, which reduce estrogen, and surgery (best for severe cases) are all possible treatment options. Surgery may involve the removal of growths and scar tissue, or it may involve removing the uterus altogether (hysterectomy).

Endometriosis can be difficult to cope with on an emotional level. Talking with other women who have endometriosis can help. http://endometriosis.org/support/support-groups/ is a good resource for information and support. Above all, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and your options; learn as much as you can, and follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment. Many women with endometriosis are able to find significant relief.

You can find more information on endometriosis in my book, Inside Information for Women.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Women Suffering From Endometriosis Impacted On Several Levels

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Endometriosis is an incredibly common condition among women, affecting upwards of seventeen percent of the population, but there is little awareness of this condition outside of those who suffer from it. Unlike other debilitating conditions that are cause for concern, as well as sympathy, endometriosis often goes unrecognized among the general population—however, it can have a significant impact on not only a woman’s physical health and wellbeing but her psychological health and her ability to maintain a social life and presence, according to research that has been done over the past few years to determine the impact of this disorder among sufferers.

Endometriosis is characterized by a number of symptoms, from extremely heavy menstrual bleeding to pain both during menstruation and at other times of the month. This is caused by an overgrowth of the uterine lining, which moves beyond the uterus and into other parts of the body, including the abdominal cavity. There is no cure for this disorder, and the primary methods of management include medications and, in certain cases, surgical intervention.

Women who suffer from endometriosis must work closely with their doctor to manage their symptoms, but there is still little that can be done to eliminate the symptoms that she faces entirely. This makes the disorder much more debilitating, especially during menstruation, and may lead to increased anxiety and stress as a result of either dealing with the symptoms, or even simply the anticipation of symptoms.

In this same study, which identified several areas in which women with endometriosis might be affected, it was also pointed out that there must be more research done on the significant impact of this disorder on the partners and children of women who suffer from it. Not surprisingly, it is incredibly stressful for those close to the woman with the disorder to deal with the pain that she must endure and the extra measures that they must take so that their own lives are affected as little as possible by it.

There is a great need of support for women who suffer from endometriosis—that is something that cannot be disputed. However, there is also a great need for the families of women affected by endometriosis to receive support as well. This can be especially difficult for male partners and younger children who do not understand the very real physiological effects of the illness.

The best method of coping is, as always, to raise awareness of the issue and for those affected by it to become educated as much as possible on the disorder. While it can be debilitating, there is no reason that women who suffer from endometriosis, as well as their families, cannot live happy and fulfilled lives. It is not up to the woman alone to cope, nor should it be. By working together with their families, women can ensure a more positive outcome and a higher quality of life.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.