Endometriosis can be a painful condition for many women. It occurs when microscopic bits of endometrial tissue escape from your uterus, attach to other organs in your body and grow. It usually affects organs in your pelvic area such as ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the tissue lining your pelvis, but it can affect other organs in your body.
Medical experts are not sure exactly what causes endometriosis. Some experts believe that small amounts of menstrual blood containing endometrial cells find ways to pass back through your fallopian tubes and spill into your pelvic cavity, where they can attach themselves to your organs. Other experts believe that women have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
The symptoms of endometriosis resemble symptoms for other common disorders. Also, some women with extensive endometriosis will have few symptoms, while other women with a mild case can experience severe symptoms. All of this makes diagnosing endometriosis difficult.
How do you know if you have endometriosis? Some of the most common symptoms are:
Unusual Pain and Cramping
Many women experience cramps during their menstrual period. With endometriosis, the cramping may be so painful that it interferes with your daily activities.
The pain and cramping are caused by the endometrial-like cells that are growing outside of your uterus on other parts of your body. These cells create inflammation that can irritate your organs and cause them to stick together.
This endometrial-like tissue acts like the normal endometrial tissue lining your uterus. It thickens, breaks down and bleeds just like the healthy endometrial tissue. However, the healthy endometrial tissue lining your uterus is expelled through your vaginal canal during menstruation; this is not the case with the endometrial tissue growing outside of your uterus. Your body has no way to expel that tissue residue once it breaks down. The spent tissue becomes trapped and with no way to escape the body, it can form cysts, called endometriomas, irritate other organs and tissue, and develop scar tissue and adhesions.
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, longer than normal periods, or bleeding between periods.
Lower Back Pain During Menstruation, Bloody Urine or Stools, or Bleeding from the Rectum
If you only experience these symptoms during menstruation, or if they worsen during menstruation, one possible cause could be endometriosis.
As many as 40% of women who have trouble getting pregnant have endometriosis. The exact reason is unclear, but medical experts suspect that inflammation plays a role. The inflammation caused by endometriosis damages the sperm or egg or makes it harder for them to move. Also, endometrial scar tissue might block your fallopian tubes.
Other symptoms of endometriosis include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation and bloating.
As noted earlier, these symptoms can be vague and sporadic. The severity of the symptoms is not indicative of the severity of the case. If you experience the symptoms frequently or regularly during your menstrual cycle, you should be examined for endometriosis.
How Endometriosis Is Diagnosed
Diagnosing endometriosis can be difficult, especially when you have few if any symptoms. You cannot safely self-diagnose it; the symptoms make the condition easy to mistake for other types of health disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or ovarian cysts.
Diagnosis and subsequent treatment involve a multiple-step process:
The first step in diagnosing endometriosis is a pelvic exam by your gynecologist. Your gynecologist will manually examine your pelvic area for abnormalities.
Ultrasound of Your Pelvic Region
An ultrasound test 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.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body. It can give your gynecologist a detailed view of cysts and scar tissue that can help in treatment.
The best diagnostic exam for endometriosis is a laparoscopy. It is a surgical procedure that allows a surgeon to view inside your abdomen using a slender viewing instrument called a laparoscope. During a laparoscopy, your surgeon may be able to fully treat endometriosis possibly eliminating the need for another surgery.
Contact Raleigh Gynecology
Endometriosis is a serious health condition that often escapes early diagnosis. It can cause infertility and other health problems. It also may raise your risk of ovarian cancer or another cancer called endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma.
If you are having any symptoms of endometriosis, it is important to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Contact the women’s health and reproductive specialists at Raleigh Gynecology and Wellness for more information and to schedule an appointment.