Endometriosis affects an estimated 200 million women around the world, yet it’s a condition that remains relatively unknown.
This painful disorder occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. The tissue inside the uterus is different from other types in the body because of its ability to change or thicken during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Endometriosis most commonly involves a woman’s ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. But this renegade tissue has even grown on areas of the bowels, vagina, rectum and vulva.
“Women may complain of painful intercourse and painful periods,” said Laurie McKechnie, a family nurse practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health. “It can be painful enough to interrupt a woman’s daily routine.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, endometriosis presents mostly in women in their 30s and 40s.
Maybe you’re like many women and have heard of endometriosis but only in passing. Here are some frequently asked questions about this condition.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Pain is the most common symptom. A woman can experience pain in the abdomen or pelvic region, dysmenorrhea, or heavy menstrual bleeding. An interesting phenomenon is that abdominal pain can be present before and after menstruation. Other symptoms can include pain during urination, pain during defecation, constipation or diarrhea, irregular bleeding, and feeling tired or lacking energy.
What causes this disorder?
No one knows for certain the cause of endometriosis. There are a couple of theories, according to the National Institutes of Health. One is known as the transplantation theory, where cells from the lining of the womb get into other parts of the body and settle there.
It is thought that the cells either travel through the bloodstream or move to the abdomen in menstrual blood that flows through the fallopian tubes, called “retrograde” menstruation. But this probably happens in a lot of women and doesn’t explain why the endometrial cells grow outside of the womb only in some women. So it’s thought a hormone imbalance or a woman’s immune system may play a role.
A second theory posits that certain cells outside of the womb can turn into endometrial cells for no known reason.
Can I prevent endometriosis?
It can’t be prevented, but, like most health conditions, you can do things to mitigate risk. You can maintain a healthy lifestyle — drink alcohol less, eat fruits and veggies, get the proper amount of sleep and exercise — and this will help keep your hormones balanced.
“Oral contraceptives are a good choice to help manage symptoms by reducing pain and lowering risks of ovarian and endometrial cancers,” McKechnie said. “This is a good option for most women but should be discussed with their provider.”
How is endometriosis treated?
While there is no cure, there are ways to treat this condition. Some methods may include using various birth controls in order to skip monthly menstrual cycles. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary. Some women have reported success in assuaging endometriosis pain and discomfort after using holistic treatments such as acupuncture or various supplements.
For more information on endometriosis, speak with your health care provider.