It is important to have an understanding of the basics about endometriosis because it will help women who suffer from this condition know what to do and why they need to keep healthy and do as much as possible to establish hormone balance.
Unfortunately, this condition is on the increase, and there are many thoughts about this. We suspect that the high estrogen levels in western women are a contributing factor. It can be hereditary (runs in families) and can have immune dysfunction involvement. And of course, stress and emotional issues are often involved.
But in all these possible causes, the common theme is a hormonal imbalance. And the good news is that you can do something about that and usually see beneficial improvements.
What is Endometriosis?
This is a common medical condition where the tissue of the lining of the uterus, called the ‘endometrium’, is found outside the uterus, affecting other organs in the pelvis such as the bowel or ovaries.
Most endometrial tissue is found on structures in the pelvic cavity: ovaries, fallopian tubes, the front and back of the uterus, uterine ligaments, intestines and the bladder. Additionally, it may spread to the cervix and vagina or to sites of a surgical abdominal incision.
This condition can lead to serious health problems, primarily pain and infertility.
It is the most common gynecological problem after fibroids. The Endometriosis Foundation of America estimates that between 176 million women and girls worldwide suffer from endometriosis; with 8.5 million in North America alone.
Facts and Figures about Endometriosis
- 3-10% of women of reproductive age are affected by this condition.
- Most patients are in their 20s and 30s.
- This condition is in the top three causes of infertility.
- 30-40% of women are infertile because of this condition.
- Some women have no symptoms and only become aware of having this condition when they start trying to conceive.
- Rarely, endometriosis persists after menopause; sometimes, hormones taken for menopausal symptoms may cause the symptoms to continue.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary from woman to woman. Additionally, the amount of pain a woman feels is not necessarily related to the extent of endometriosis as some women may have severe pain even though they only have a few small areas of endometriosis.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Extremely painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea); pain may get worse over time
- Chronic pelvic pain (includes lower back pain and pelvic pain)
- Pain during or after sex
- Painful bowel movements and bloating
- Painful urination during menstrual periods
- Heavy periods
- Irregular periods
- Pre-menstrual spotting or bleeding between periods
- Pain in the pelvic region
- In addition, women who are diagnosed with endometriosis may have gastrointestinal symptoms that may mimic irritable bowel syndrome, as well as fatigue.
- Symptoms often improve dramatically after pregnancy, and it is believed that having a break from the monthly cycle actually 'quiets down' the disease in some sufferers.
Women who suffer from endometriosis understand how it can take over their lives. Vacations are planned to avoid periods and social arrangements are cancelled at the last minute when the pain becomes intense. Many women are forced to take days off work or school each month in order to cope with the condition and some women have had to give up work because their employers cannot cope with their frequent absences.
Why does Endometriosis cause pain?
Endometrial lesions are active endometrial cells that respond to the hormonal changes in a women’s monthly cycle. i.e. they build-up during the first half of the menstrual cycle (the follicular phase), they “mature” during the second half (the luteal phase) and they shed during a women’s period (menses). These cells can grow outside the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, the rectum and more uncommonly in the arm, lungs and thighs. It is essentially normal tissue outside the uterus. Degeneration, inflammation and scar tissue may also be present.
Because endometrial tissue responds to hormones, especially estrogen and estrogen like chemicals, it is essential that women suffering from endometriosis do everything they can to balance their estrogen, progesterone and detoxify themselves of harmful chemical estrogens.
Complications of Endometriosis
Sadly, the symptoms of endometriosis can lead to complications such as:
- Rupture of growths spreading lesion area
- Intestinal bleeding or bowel obstruction
- Poor bladder function