Endometriosis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
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No woman wants to find out that she has endometriosis. It’s a chronic condition that occurs most often on your ovaries and impacts your ability to fall pregnant. While we haven’t yet identified a cure for the disease, we can treat it, alleviating some of your more unpleasant symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your endometriosis, you can still fall pregnant, but it will take time, patience and perseverance.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on endometriosis to help you understand your diagnosis and manage your symptoms.
We Cover The Following Topics In This Article
- What is endometriosis?
- What are the types of endometriosis?
- What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
- What causes endometriosis?
- Who is most at risk?
- Stages of endometriosis
- Treating endometriosis
- How to prevent endometriosis
- Fertility and endometriosis
- PCOS vs endometriosis: what is the difference?
What is endometriosis?
According to the World Health Organization, endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects 10% of women and can cause infertility. It occurs when tissue similar to the tissue lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus and surrounds the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It can also grow in the cervix, vagina, rectum, bowel and bladder.
What are the types of endometriosis?
There are three types of endometriosis:
- The most common type of endometriosis is a superficial peritoneal lesion. It causes lesions on your peritoneum, a paper-thin film which lines the pelvic brim.
- Endometrioma or ovarian lesions cause fluid-filled, dark cysts deep within your ovaries. They don’t respond to treatment and can easily damage healthy cells.
- Lastly, there is deeply infiltrating endometriosis which grows below the peritoneum and sometimes near your bladder or bowels. It occurs in about 1-5% of women with endometriosis.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Most women discover they have endometriosis after failing to fall pregnant within the first year or two of trying. For all other women, the most common sign is pain.
- Severe period pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Back and pelvic pain that doesn’t go away
- Painful bowel movements or blood in your stool
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- An inability to fall pregnant
- Anxiety and unexplainable fatigue
What causes endometriosis?
While it’s not yet known exactly what causes endometriosis, there are a few primary suspects.
- Family history of endometriosis. Your genetics can and do play a part in your endometriosis diagnosis.
- An immune system disorder. A strong immune system is more likely to find and remove tissues that cause endometriosis than a compromised one.
- Problematic menstrual history. Many women who suffer from endometriosis note irregular periods throughout their teenage years and adulthood. Some struggle with a constant period, while others rarely experience their period.
- Hormones. Too much estrogen in your system could be causing your endometriosis, and your doctor may recommend medication to reduce your estrogen levels.
Who is most at risk?
While any woman can get endometriosis, it’s most common in women 30 – 40 years of age.
You’re also more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis if:
- you’ve never had a baby
- there are other women in your family (mothers, aunts, sisters) who have endometriosis
- your menstrual period lasts longer than 7 days
- your menstrual cycle is shorter than 27 days
Stages of endometriosis
There are four stages you need to be aware of. Strangely, someone in stage one can experience severe pain, whereas a woman suffering from stage 4 endometriosis may have no pain.
- Stage 1: In the early stage of the disease you have minimal lesions with no scar tissue.
- Stage 2: In the mild stage of the condition, you have more lesions. There is still no scar tissue.
- Stage 3: In the moderate stage of endometriosis, your lesions are quite deep, and scar tissue begins forming on your fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Stage 4: In the severe stage of the disease, many lesions and dark cysts form in your ovaries. There is scar tissue on your fallopian tubes and ovaries between your uterus and your lower intestine
If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, your doctor may recommend surgery, medication, and lifestyle changes. It all depends on what stage of endometriosis you’re in.
Here’s what you need to know:
Surgery for treating endometriosis
Surgery is only recommended in severe cases. For example, if you’re not responding to fertility treatment or hormone therapy. Your surgeon will look for areas where the disease has spread and remove the pockets of endometriosis.
Once the surgery is complete, you will restart hormone therapy unless you’re attempting to fall pregnant.
Medication for treating endometriosis
Medical treatments for endometriosis include increasing progesterone levels (particularly if you’re trying to fall pregnant) or lowering estrogen levels (if you’re not trying to conceive).
Your doctor might prescribe painkillers, non-steroid anti-inflammatories or contraceptive steroids. The choice of treatment depends on how well you respond and any adverse side effects you might experience.
How to prevent endometriosis
If you know you’re at risk of getting endometriosis, are there things you can do to prevent it?
The truth is you can’t prevent endometriosis, but you can reduce your chance of developing it.
- Limit your caffeine intake. Caffeinated drinks are known to raise the level of estrogen in your body, so make sure you limit it to no more than one beverage a day.
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol increases estrogen levels in your body, so if you must have a drink, limit it to one alcoholic beverage a day.
- Speak to your doctor about your estrogen hormone levels. They may recommend the pill, rings or patches to help control estrogen levels.
- Exercise regularly. Try to exercise at least 4 hours a week, as this can help keep your weight down and reduce estrogen levels in your body.
- Stick to a healthy diet. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a treat or two a week, but eating healthily ensures you are an optimal body weight for your size. This can help to keep estrogen levels in your body under control.
Fertility and endometriosis
Chances are, if you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, you will likely encounter fertility issues. Here’s what you need to know.
Falling pregnant with endometriosis
Yes, you absolutely can fall pregnant with endometriosis, but it’s not an easy journey. Most women suffering from endometriosis turn to fertility specialists to help get pregnant. It can take years of trying and is costly.
If you struggle to become pregnant, speak to your doctor or contact Welwitschia Hospital to book an appointment.
Dealing with your endometriosis after pregnancy
Having delivered a healthy baby, you may wonder if you’re cured of your endometriosis. This is largely viewed as an old wife’s tale among the medical community. There is consensus among many women who have endometriosis that there is an improvement in endometriosis pain post-pregnancy. This may be due to the menstrual cycle being suppressed during pregnancy, but it’s simply a theory.
PCOS vs endometriosis: what is the difference?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) differs from endometriosis in that it’s a hormonal condition. Endometriosis, on the other hand, is caused by abnormal cell growth. Both can impact your ability to fall pregnant.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, advancements in medical treatments can help manage the progression of the disease.
You may have endometriosis if you struggle with painful periods or if you’ve been trying to fall pregnant for the last year without success. Don’t wait. Speak to your doctor or gynaecologist about the disease and whether you have it.
If you know you have a family history of endometriosis, arrange regular check-ups with your gynaecologist to monitor your status. Alternatively, contact Welwitschia Hospital by calling +264 64 218 911 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment.
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