Endometriosis is a condition that afflicts many women. It is a disorder involving endometrial tissue, which is the type of tissue that lines the inside of a woman’s uterus. So, how do you diagnose endometriosis?
When you ovulate, your ovaries release an egg into your uterus where the endometrium lining thickens to provide a cushion for the egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the endometrium breaks down and bleeds out during your menstrual cycle. Menstrual bleeding is your body’s way of expelling the endometrial tissue along with any unfertilized egg.
Endometriosis occurs when microscopic bits of endometrial tissue escape from your uterus, attach to other organs in your body and grow. Endometriosis usually affects organs in your pelvic area, ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis, but it can affect other organs in your body.
Symptoms Of Endometriosis
How do you know if you have endometriosis? Some of the most common symptoms are:
Pain And Cramping
The endometrial tissue growing outside of your uterus acts like normal endometrial tissue through each menstrual cycle. It thickens, breaks down and bleeds along with the healthy cells making up your endometrial lining; however, your body has no way to expel the abnormal cells once they break down and they become trapped. With no way to escape the body, they can form cysts called endometriomas, irritate other organs and tissue, and develop scar tissue and adhesions that cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other. This process causes pain and cramping, which is often severe. You may also have pain and cramping during sexual intercourse and with bowel movements or urination when you are menstruating.
Women with endometriosis often experience heavy menstrual periods or occasional bleeding between periods.
Infertility is a common symptom of endometriosis. Treatment has to be tailored to the condition of each patient. In some cases, endometriosis may be affecting the function of the patients’ fallopian tubes, which requires a much different treatment from cases where endometriosis is interfering with the ovaries. Women experiencing infertility may need to be evaluated and treated for endometriosis to optimize their chances to conceive.
During your menstrual periods, you may experience unusual fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea.
These symptoms can be vague. Some women with extensive endometriosis will have few symptoms, while other women with a mild case can experience severe symptoms.
How to Diagnose Endometriosis
Diagnosing endometriosis can be difficult, especially when you have few if any symptoms. The symptoms also make the condition easy to mistake for other types of health disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or ovarian cysts.
If left undiagnosed and untreated, endometriosis can present serious health risks. It can lead to infertility and interfere with the healthy functioning of other organs. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, talk with your doctor about appropriate evaluation and treatment for your symptoms.
Diagnosis involves a multiple step process, beginning with the least invasive and progressing to more invasive surgical procedures:
The first step in diagnosing endometriosis is a pelvic exam by your gynecologist. During a manual examination of your pelvic area, your gynecologist will feel the organs in your pelvic area for abnormalities. Sometimes, your gynecologist can feel cysts, scar tissue, or other abnormal growths; however, if no such abnormalities have yet formed, manual examination is inconclusive.
Ultrasound of Your Pelvic Region
If your endometriosis symptoms persist, your gynecologist may recommend an ultrasound test. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your pelvic region. It may be performed by pressing a device called a transducer against your abdomen or inserting it into your vagina. For the best results, both types of ultrasound can be conducted to get the most comprehensive view of your organs. The ultrasound can identify and locate any endometrial cysts that have formed, which may not be detectable through manual examination.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Using a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body, an MRI can give your gynecologist a comprehensive view of cysts and scar tissue that can help in planning surgery.
The most definitive diagnostic exam for endometriosis is a laparoscopy. It is a procedure that allows a surgeon to view inside your abdomen. During a laparoscopy, you will be under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes a tiny incision near your navel and inserts a slender viewing instrument called a laparoscope, enabling the surgeon to look for signs of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
A laparoscopy can provide detailed information about the location, extent and size of any endometrial cysts and tissue, along with any adhesions and scar tissue. Often, your surgeon will take tissue samples to test for endometriosis and to rule out malignancies or other abnormal conditions. A laparoscopy is also useful because your surgeon may be able to fully treat endometriosis during the laparoscopy, helping to improve the problems that endometriosis has created.
Visit Your Gynecologist
Stay on top of your reproductive health, have regular pelvic exams by a gynecologist and stay alert to the symptoms of endometriosis. If you have been trying to get pregnant for a while without success, endometriosis could be the problem. Your gynecologist can help you address those issues.
Contact Raleigh Gynecology
Endometriosis is a serious health condition that often escapes early diagnosis. Regular pelvic examinations can help identify it early and manage it before it becomes a bigger risk to your health. If you are having symptoms of endometriosis or have any questions about it, contact the women’s reproductive and health experts at Raleigh Gynecology.