Endometriosis is a disorder that occurs in about 10-percent of women who are of reproductive age. This condition can be painful and can even worsen over time for those who have it.
Understanding the complexity of endometriosis and related symptoms can be challenging, but finding the help you need doesn't have to be.
In this article, you will learn the causes of endometriosis, possible risk factors for endometriosis, when you should see your doctor, endometriosis symptoms, complications, and what goes into diagnosing this disease.
Causes of Endometriosis
Endometriosis revolves around the reproductive system, where the menstrual cycle is regulated through hormones produced by the ovaries. Each month, for a typical reproductive system, the estrogen hormone increases causing the lining of the uterus to thicken. This lining is called the endometrium.
If the woman doesn’t get pregnant, she has her period — or in other words — the endometrium will break down and shed.
Endometriosis is a disease where tissue, resembling and acting much like the endometrium, grows in locations outside of the uterus. This endometrium-like tissue is often referred to as lesions or implants.
While the precise cause of endometriosis hasn’t yet been identified, most medical professionals suspect there are common factors that put people at risk of getting the disease.
Risk Factors for Endometriosis
Risk factors for endometriosis include:
- Heavy or long menstrual periods (lasting over seven days)
- Short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- A family history of endometriosis
- Menstruating at a young age (the current average age is 12.5 years)
- Producing higher levels of estrogen than considered normal
If any of these factors are significant in your life, talk to your gynecologist, you might be at risk for endometriosis, but you could have other underlying issues that are very important to address.
While endometriosis symptoms may vary from person to person, the most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain. Your pelvis is the lower part of your torso, located between the legs and abdomen. Pelvic pain associated with endometriosis usually occurs during the menstrual period and can be very painful.
However, the intensity of your pain may not always properly indicate the magnitude of the condition. In some cases, minimal or no pain at all can still be associated with severe endometriosis and intense pain can be associated with mild endometriosis.
You may have endometriosis if you experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Troubles with fertility
- Pain during or after intercourse
- Excessive bleeding or spotting between periods
- Painful bowel movements and urination
- Diarrhea, constipation, bloody stool or urine, or bloating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lower-back or pelvic pain
- Extreme fatigue
When the body stops producing estrogen, which is also known as menopause, pain often lessens. Remember that the size or amount of lesions doesn’t always correlate with the level of pain you might be feeling.
When to See Your Doctor
Endometriosis can be a debilitatingly painful condition. If you are experiencing pain in your pelvic area or are experiencing the common symptoms listed above, we suggest you talk to your gynecologist.
With some of its symptoms resembling other conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis can be mistakenly diagnosed. It’s important to be evaluated by an experienced endometriosis doctor that is familiar with the disease.
Infertility and Other Complications From Endometriosis
Endometriosis and Infertility
For some people, infertility is their only symptom of endometriosis. Although the physical pain isn’t there for them, the emotional pain may still be present. About one-third of women with endometriosis symptoms are also affected by infertility. The reason for the correlation between endometriosis and infertility isn’t completely known, but there are probable causes for this to be the case.
In the process of becoming pregnant, an egg needs to be released by an ovary and picked up by the fimbriae, the fringe of tissue around the end of the fallopian tube. When this occurs, it allows the oocyte (an immature egg) to travel through the fallopian tube, become fertilized by a sperm cell, and eventually be brought into the uterus and implanted on the uterine wall to begin development.
Endometriosis is known to cause swelling and inflammation throughout the reproductive organs, which can damage the sperm, but also affect the fimbriae and other areas that transport the egg before it reaches the uterus. Endometriosis lesions are also known to adhere to neighboring pelvic organs, causing them to stick together and disable them from functioning properly.
Other Complications From Endometriosis
Not only can endometriosis cause infertility, but women can also experience other complications such as:
- Ovarian cysts. Very painful, and even sometimes large, fluid-filled cysts in the ovaries.
- Adhesions. When the endometrium-like tissue (lesions) create a “sticky” impression, causing reproductive organs to stick together.
- Surgery complications. The most common surgical complications include infections from the wound, minor bleeding, or bruising around the wound.
Not sure who to trust with your endometriosis medical care? Schedule an appointment with one of Moreland OB-GYN’s experienced and knowledgeable providers today.
Your gynecologist will ask you to explain your endometriosis symptoms and when and where you experience pain. The following are common tests that your doctor will perform to check for physical indications of endometriosis.
- Pelvic exam. This exam will allow your doctor to manually feel for cysts on your organs in the pelvic area or for scars behind your uterus.
- Ultrasound. You might receive both a transducer ultrasound or a transvaginal ultrasound. A transducer is an ultrasound device that is pressed against your abdomen and a transvaginal ultrasound is one that is inserted through your vagina. This will identify any cysts that could be related to your pain.
- MRI. This may be used for planning surgery to recover detailed images of the organs and even the tissue within your reproductive area. Your doctor can use this to see if there are any lesions and adhesions on your organs.
- Laparoscopy. As a way to temporarily treat your endometriosis, your doctor can order this minor outpatient surgery. The surgeon makes an insertion through your navel and uses a scope to cauterize, laser, or cut the lesions forming on the outside of your uterus or other reproductive organs.
Your treatments can also depend on what stage of endometriosis you’re in. Although everyone has different symptoms, including the amount of pain they experience, the stages of endometriosis are broken down into four stages.
The stages are classified based on the extent and location of lesions and the severeness of adhesions. The stages also take into account whether you have ovarian cysts and the size of them.
Here are the four stages of endometriosis and the symptoms associated with each.
- Stage 1 or minimal endometriosis: small scale lesions and no adhesions.
- Stage 2 or mild endometriosis: shallow lesions that are 5 cm in diameter or less with no significant adhesions.
- Stage 3 or moderate endometriosis: deep-seated lesions, cysts on one or both ovaries, and thin adhesions.
- Stage 4 or severe endometriosis: multiple deep lesions, large cysts on the ovaries, and thick adhesions.
Moreland OB-GYN Associates, S.C. is dedicated to the needs of their patients. At Moreland OB-GYN, we promote overall excellence in women’s health care. Our compassionate providers understand the difficulties that women face in their daily health, whether it is unexplainable pain or unusual symptoms, we are here to listen and provide our expert care.