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Living with Endometriosis: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

Endometriosis is a gynecological disease that is shrouded in mystery. Learn about the risk factors, causes, prognosis and treatment of this much dreaded disease.

Living with Endometriosis: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment

Endometriosis is a gynecological disease that is shrouded in mystery. Learn about the risk factors, causes, prognosis and treatment of this much dreaded disease.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a gynecological health issue where tissues similar to the one lining the uterus endometrial start growing on other parts of the body outside the uterus. On few occasions, the endometrial tissue grows outside of the pelvic region.

Endometriosis Overview

Normally, endometrial tissue grows inside the uterus to prepare the uterus lining for ovulation. In endometriosis, some endometrial tissue is found outside the uterus in areas such as:

  • Outer uterus surface
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Ovaries
  • Lymph nodes

Others parts that the tissue can develop are cervix, vagina, bladder, bowel, rectum, and on rare occasion, skin, lungs, and brain. Normally, the displaced endometrial implants continue to act normally. The tissue thickens and continues to work as usual; this includes bleeding during the menstrual cycle but without exiting the body. Instead, it gets trapped inside to form endometriosis.

When in that state of endometriosis, some endometriomas cysts-like tissues are likely to form. Other surrounding tissues during the formation of cysts become irritated, leading to the creation of adhesions and scar tissue.

Facts of Endometriosis

Statistics are that about a tenth of women in their reproductive age, which approximates to 176 million are affected by the condition globally.

The condition can be present at the early age of a fetus. During puberty, the estrogen levels trigger the symptoms.

The symptoms commonly appear during reproductive age. The symptoms can go unnoticed and hence, undiagnosed, which can take about ten years for most women in the US to get a diagnosis. Endometriosis condition can be painful and in some occasions very severe during the menstrual period. When the tissue continues growing, it can cause blockage of the fallopian tubes.

Endometriosis symptoms such as pain can be felt in the affected parts. Other secondary symptoms include the inability to work, affecting the relationship between couples, and an increase in medical costs.

Some other health conditions in women have direct links with endometriosis. Such conditions are:

  • Asthma,
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Breast cancer
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ovarian cancer

Endometriosis Symptoms

The following symptoms may signal endometriosis:

  • Menstrual cramps which can be severe on some occasions
  • Persistent pelvic and lower-back pain
  • Heavy bleeding during menstrual
  • Menstrual periods extending to more than seven days
  • Painful urinary and bowel problems accompanied by bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloody urine or stool
  • Spotting bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Fatigue
  • Painful intercourse

There are other health conditions with symptoms similar to endometriosis. Such conditions are:

  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Pain is the prevalent symptom in endometriosis which, in most cases the pain is severe. The menstrual pain resolves once you reach your menopause and the body discontinues releasing estrogen. Nevertheless, when you use hormone therapy during menopause, the pain may continue.

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When you are in your reproductive age and suffering from endometriosis pain, you may experience temporary relief during pregnancy.

Endometriosis Complications

Endometriosis can cause other health complications such as:

  • Infertility which can affect about half of those living with endometriosis condition
  • High risk of ovarian cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Development of adhesion and scar tissue
  • Bladder and intestinal health complications
  • To avoid future adverse complications, you should visit your GP or doctor for medical care when you have such symptoms.

Treatment of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is not curable. But, you can get treatment for symptoms and other complications that occur during endometriosis condition. Depending on your condition, your doctor can suggest the following:

  • Hormones – Unless you are planning to get pregnant, you can use hormonal birth control as your initial step for symptoms treatment. You can use hormonal therapies like Medroxyprogesterone Depo-Provera, Gonadotropin-releasing hormone, intrauterine device, or other recommendations. Hormonal treatment is recommended for women who are not experiencing severe pain.
  • Pain medication – You can use over the counter pain medicines as recommended by your pharmacist for mild pain. Use ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) which is NSAIDs (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), or your doctor can prescribe medications as may seem best according to your symptoms.
  • Fertility Therapy – Pregnancy through in-vitro fertilization may be your other option. Your doctor can recommend IVF therapy depending on your symptoms.
  • Surgery – For severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. That is if you have tried hormones without relief or if the symptoms are giving you fertility problems. Your surgeon will locate areas with endometriosis and remove the endometrial tissue. If you don't intend to get pregnant, your doctor can restart hormone treatment after surgery.
  • In severe cases, the surgeon will remove both ovaries by hysterectomy. The hysterectomy is a bold step for someone in the reproductive age. It means you will never get pregnant again after the surgery.
  • Home remedies using complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) – According to one review, CAM therapy can effectively treat endometriosis pain. CAM therapy for endometriosis could include acupuncture, herbal products (twig, cinnamon), supplements (vitamin B1, thiamine, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids), or chiropractic care.

Other Home Observations While Living with Endometriosis

Caffeine can aggravate the symptoms. Avoid it completely.

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Keep monitoring the symptoms to prevent future adverse complications. If you experience severe pain different from what you were feeling before or bleeding excessively, report the symptoms to your doctor for further examination.

Endometriosis has no cure. But, you can manage the symptoms and continue living a healthy life. “Can I get pregnant if I have endometriosis?” If that is your question, the answer is yes you can get pregnant only that it may be difficult and you will need a lot of support from your doctors.

How is Endometriosis Diagnosed?

If there are some indications and symptoms of endometriosis, consult your physician for examination. Some of the tests that your doctor can recommend are:

  • Pelvic Exam – With large cysts, your doctor can quickly feel them while doing a pelvic exam. But, when the cysts are small, this exam may fail to reveal anything.
  • Imaging Test or Ultrasound – Your doctor can use a scanner which is moved across your abdomen or use a wand-shaped scanner which is inserted inside your vagina. Both examinations are ultrasound that can produce images inside your body.
  • Medicine – If after the pelvic exam and ultrasound your doctor did not find an ovarian cyst, he might decide to prescribe hormonal medications to relief your pelvic pain. If your pelvic pain improves after hormonal medicines, then the indication is that there might be endometriosis.
  • Diagnostic Laparoscopy – Performing laparoscopy surgery, your doctor can tell where there is endometriosis. You doctor will perform the surgery to remove endometriotic adhesions and lesions if any. With laparoscopy, your doctor can diagnose as well as treating using a single operation. Just like any other surgical procedure, your doctor will request your consent for the surgery.

How to Manage Endometriosis Pain Using Diet

  • Use of diet cannot cure endometriosis, but lifestyle and dietary changes can be useful in improving the symptoms.
  • One study concluded that bladderwrack seaweed could reduce estrogen in women who have endometriosis to reduce the rate of growth. However, there is need for further research to confirm the findings.
  • Another report suggests that if you eat some healthy diet, you can reduce the rate of growth of endometriosis. Such foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, Omega-3 fatty acids.

What Causes Endometriosis?

Even though doctors have not established the exact cause of endometriosis, some of the following factors are likely to be the cause:

  • The displaced flow of menstrual period – Some shed tissues of menstrual flow fail to leave the body to enter into fallopian tubes and the pelvis
  • Immune system – When there is a problem with the immune system, and the body fails to fight off endometrial tissue that might have escaped to the outside of the uterus.
  • Genetic factors – It is believed that endometriosis is also influenced by genetic factors.
  • Hormones – The hormone estrogen can promote endometriosis.
  • Growth of embryonic cell – Embryonic cells change into endometrial tissue in the lining of the pelvis and the abdomen outside the uterus.
  • Surgery Scar – During abdominal surgery such as hysterectomy or cesarean, otherwise known as the C-section, endometrial tissue can move to other areas.
  • Transportation of endometrial tissue – Endometrial tissue moves through the lymph system to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors of Endometriosis

Other factors that could be involved in endometriosis are:

  • Age – Endometriosis mostly develops in ages 30 and 40.
  • Autoimmunity – The immunity system starts attacking itself instead of attacking other illness. It can happen during health issues such as lupus, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, some cancers, fibromyalgia, and hypothyroidism.
  • Menstrual history – Menstruation circle lasting lesser days than the typical 28 or when menstruation period extends beyond seven days.
  • Nulliparity – Women who don’t have children are more likely to develop endometriosis
  • There is a possible link between some chemical such as phthalates and endometriosis.

Allie Leon, Chief Fun Officer

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