Endometriosis affects approximately 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years worldwide. Surprisingly, most women lack a diagnosis until their 30s and 40s. The impact of pain and fertility can interfere with daily life. Medical advances have improved options, but there is still a long road ahead to solve underdiagnosis and treatment difficulties. Seattle Women’s joins the army of scientists and health professionals who are researching an end to the suffering caused by endometriosis.
Endometriosis Signs and Causes
Endometriosis is a condition that causes endometrial tissue to grow outside of the uterus. This tissue usually lines the inside walls of the uterus. Endometriosis can implant or grow anywhere in the pelvic cavity, such as:
- Peritoneum (lining of the abdominal and pelvic cavities)
- Fallopian tubes
- Outer surfaces of the uterus, bladder, ureters, intestines, and rectum
- In the space behind the uterus
The cause of endometriosis remains unknown, but genetics, hormones, and other potential factors are under investigation. Like the uterine lining during a woman’s period, hormones cause endometriosis (the endometrial implants outside of the uterus) to grow, breakdown and bleed outside the uterus. This causes pain and scarring because it is happening within the body and cannot be alleviated by menstruation.
The areas surrounding the endometrial implants are prone to swelling, irritation, and inflammation. Adhesions, or scar tissue, may also form that can block access to fallopian tubes, and even bind organs together in severe cases. These factors lead to symptoms that include:
- Pain: Chronic, long-term pain is the most common symptom women experience. It typically worsens right before the menstrual cycle. It also may occur during sex, urination, and bowel movements.
- Infertility: Around 40% of infertility cases are a result of endometriosis. The inflammation that occurs may affect the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg. The adhesions can also affect reproduction when they block the fallopian tubes.
- Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Abnormal hormone production is the leading cause of heavy menstrual bleeding. This is a result of several indirect factors from the effects of endometriosis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Imaging tests and a pelvic exam can determine a probable diagnosis of endometriosis. However, laparoscopy is the only way to diagnose it definitively. Laparoscopic surgery allows your Gynecologist to look inside the pelvic area to see the endometrial tissues.
Managing endo involves hormonal therapies such as birth control or pain medications. If those methods do not provide adequate relief, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist or antagonist may be prescribed, which stops or reduces the production of certain hormones. For severe symptoms and fertility issues, surgical options are available.
Do You Have a Surgical Diagnosis of Endometriosis?
If you have a surgical diagnosis of endometriosis, research studies may be an option. Volunteers who participate in studies help improve the detection, treatment, and prevention options for endometriosis and other conditions. Seattle Women’s is currently enrolling studies for women with a diagnosis of endometriosis. To learn more, call 206-522-3330 or visit our website.