Endometriosis affects an estimated 5.5 million women in the United States and Canada, and many more women worldwide. Although there is no proven theory of why some women experience the condition, we do know endometriosis is an equal opportunity disease that affects women of every ethnicity, height and weight.
Endometriosis occurs when the endometrial tissue builds up outside the walls of the uterus and into the organs inside the pelvis, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes. When the tissue is ready to be expelled from the body during a woman’s menstrual cycle, the excess tissue has nowhere to go, causing pain in the pelvis and abdomen.
Currently, the only way to diagnose if a woman has endometriosis is through laparoscopic surgery. During surgery, a small incision is made in the abdomen and a lighted scope is used to determine where the endometrial tissue is formed. Once a surgeon can see the endometrial tissue, a small portion is sent to pathology to confirm or dismiss the visual diagnosis.
Treatments for endometriosis vary depending on the patient’s goals. Since endometriosis can cause interference with fertility, a patient trying to conceive may opt for a more invasive treatment than a woman who is simply concerned with pain management.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a medication that helps manage the pain of endometriosis. GnRH produces chemical menopause to stop ovulation and shrink the excess tissue and lesions. The side effects from the medication vary, but most women will experience menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and emotional outbursts. The treatment can be effective, but once the drug is discontinued endometrial tissue will often reoccur.
Women who are trying to conceive may opt for surgery. Surgery removes endometrial tissue and restores the anatomy of the tissue that might have been distorted. This can restore fertility if the woman is able to conceive before the tissue rebuilds.
Some women have also benefited from alternative pain management techniques. Many women claim their endometriosis has been resolved through acupuncture and nerve blocking. Some herbal remedies include aromatherapy, dietary modifications, vitamin supplements and relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these therapies.
Endometriosis can cause severe pain. If you have been experiencing severe pelvic pain, especially during your period, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.