March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month. Do you suffer from monthly pain? For some women, the pain can be debilitating. If you cannot go to work, school, or even function because of your symptoms or pain, you need to see your doctor. Don’t put it off as premenstrual syndrome.
Endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. This means 1 in 10 women is affected throughout their reproductive years; from the start of menses (period) to menopause. It is a condition where tissue from the uterine lining is found elsewhere in the body. This lining is called the endometrium and it only belongs in the uterus. It is believed the tissue travels up through the fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. It attaches itself to other tissues/organs causing adhesions and pain.
Endometriosis is painful and usually coincides with menses. For many of these women, the pain is so severe that it impacts their lives in significant ways. While pain is the most common side effect, it also leaves many women infertile. It is estimated that 30-40% of women with endometriosis are unable to have children. Other women can be slow to conceive. Other symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, heavy or irregular bleeding, and fatigue.
The cause of endometriosis remains unknown. Scientists do know that estrogen makes endometriosis worse. Most of the current treatments focus on tempering estrogen production to reduce a woman’s symptoms.
There is a diagnostic delay. It typically takes an average of 10-12 years to be diagnosed, leaving women to suffer. Endometriosis can only be diagnosed through laparoscopy and visual inspection; unless it can be visualized in the vagina. The gold standard for diagnosing is laparoscopy with biopsy of the tissue.
There is no known cure for endometriosis but there are treatments to relieve symptoms. Since the disease is exacerbated by estrogen, hormone treatments are used to suppress the menses thus preventing monthly bleeding. While laparoscopy is the only way to diagnose, in most cases it can be treated with the same procedure.
There are many organizations that support women with endometriosis, both national and worldwide. Visit endometriosis.org for up-to-date information and resources. They have articles, clinical textbooks, research, self-help books, support groups, and more.