What Every Woman Should Know About Endometriosis

Despite affecting 1 in 10 women, endometriosis is a reproductive condition that is often overlooked and underdiagnosed. Shrouded by taboo and sometimes medically difficult to detect, endometriosis can often slip under the radar. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness can be devastating. Endometriosis not only causes pain but also seriously impacts a woman’s fertility.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease in which the tissue that lines the uterus – the endometrium – begins to grow on other reproductive organs. Most commonly, this growth occurs in the fallopian tubes and ovaries, causing inflammation in the form of cysts, lesions and scar tissue.

How does endometriosis affect fertility?

When endometriosis extends to other reproductive organs, inflammation can create physical obstructions while also inhibiting the reproductive system’s ability to function properly. For example, when endometrial tissue grows onto the fallopian tubes, they can become blocked, which can prevent an egg from descending and uniting with a sperm. In other cases, when endometriosis reaches the ovaries, cysts known as endometriomas usually form and negatively impact the egg quality.

Research also indicates that endometriomas and additional inflammation can affect hormonal balances and create a toxic environment for eggs. If a woman’s eggs are low quality, a viable embryo might not be able to form, resulting in failed pregnancy attempts or miscarriages.

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of endometriosis can be hard to detect, since many symptoms are shared with normal menstrual symptoms or other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is extremely important to remain vigilant to possible symptoms and talk to your doctor about having an endometrial biopsy if you’re experiencing the following:

  • Painful periods
  • Pain with bowel movements and/or urination during your period
  • Excessive bleeding during or between periods
  • Fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods
  • Pain during or after sex

Another thing to note is that the level of pain varies widely among patients with endometriosis and does not always correlate with severity. For example, someone with severe endometriosis might not feel pain, while a woman with moderate endometriosis might feel debilitating pain.

It may be prudent to familiarize yourself with associated risk factors and discuss with your doctor if you have:

  • A family history of endometriosis
  • Menstrual onset at an early age
  • Short menstrual cycles

What are my options?

At this time, there is no cure for endometriosis. However, there are several treatment options that can help manage and alleviate your symptoms, including anti-inflammatory medications and hormone treatments. If you are planning to become pregnant, you might want to talk to your doctor about fertility care and treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Most important, make a commitment to check in with yourself and your body by faithfully keeping up with your annual well-woman exams. If you notice something does not feel normal or have questions specific to your health, contact your doctor. For more information on endometriosis care in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact Pacific Women's Obstetrics & Gynecology today.

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