Nearly 6.3 million women are affected by endometriosis in the United States. Millions more are affected worldwide. Endometriosis, though very common, has no known cause or cure. There are some theories that women with endometriosis have trouble sloughing off menstrual tissue during their periods, leading to a back-up of the tissue. Some doctors think that an immune system or hormone disorder causes this tissue to grow into endometriosis. Endometriosis is painful and can lead to long-term complications like infertility.
Endometriosis can happen when tissue that lines the uterus travels and adheres to areas outside the uterus. Sometimes, this endometrial tissue is found in the abdomen, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other areas inside the pelvis. Sometimes, the tissue will travel to another area of the body and attach. When you menstruate, the same hormones that normally trigger the tissue to be sloughed off through the uterus triggers the tissue that has attached elsewhere. However, this tissue has nowhere to go, and as such, it turns into a growth or lesion. Over time, the tissue breaks down, causing inflammation, scar tissue, bowel issues, and even infertility. Other causes of endometriosis are lymphatic spread and coelomic metaplasia.
There are several symptoms of endometriosis, but they can also be symptoms of other disorders, so your gynecologist may want to perform a laparoscopy. This is a minor surgical procedure that shows the location and size of any abnormal growths. Symptoms of endometriosis include:
Treatment usually depends on how severe your symptoms are, in addition to the severity of the disease itself, your age, and whether or not you want children. Treatment is multi-disciplined, meaning it can be a combination of pain management, surgery, and/or hormone therapy. If you have mild symptoms, pain management with NSAID medication may be enough. This medication reduces inflammation, and thus pain.
For more severe cases, birth control and other hormone treatments may reduce the amount of estrogen in your body and will slow the growth of menstrual tissue. Lastly, surgery has been shown to significantly reduce the pain from endometriosis. A surgeon will locate and remove patches of abnormal tissue. However, this can sometimes affect your fertility, so you should carefully consider whether this option is right for you. If you don't want to have children, you may be able to get a hysterectomy, where your ovaries are removed completely.
The team at Women’s Medical Associates of Nashville is here to help if you have questions or concerns about endometriosis. Click here to contact us online.