Endometriosis is a medical condition in which the uterine lining, endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. The lining can grow into the fallopian tubes and ovaries. In rare cases, the endometrium grows beyond the pelvis and into other organs such as the vagina, bowels, and even the lungs.
Though outside the uterus, the displaced endometrium will still break down and bleed during the menstrual cycle. The blood has nowhere to go and the surrounding areas can become swollen and inflamed. Scar tissue and lesions can develop, and the result is often painful. Endometriosis is most often found in the ovaries.
Signs of endometriosis
Symptoms are not the best measurement for determining the severity of the condition. Mild endometriosis can be quite painful while advanced endometriosis can be asymptomatic. Most individuals with endometriosis report a combination of the following symptoms: pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, pain during sex, infertility, and abnormal or excessive bleeding during menstruation. Pain when going to the bathroom is also a common symptom of endometriosis.
Are the causes known?
Diagnosing endometriosis can be difficult. Endometriosis can be misdiagnosed as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or ovarian cysts. IBS and endometriosis often go hand in hand. Genetics is likely a factor and the condition typically worsens with each subsequent generation. Doctors will use a combination of family history, physical exams, ultrasounds, and biopsies when diagnosing the condition.
The severity of endometriosis and whether or not a woman desires to become pregnant will guide the treatment plan. Treatment can involve medication, hormone therapy (HRT), or surgery. In only the most extreme cases is a full hysterectomy is performed. Removal of the ovaries will cause a woman to go into menopause. If performed before the age of 35, a woman is at a higher risk of early menopause, metabolic issues, and cardiovascular disease.
When to see a doctor
Women experiencing any of the symptoms of endometriosis should make an appointment with a doctor. Pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, and intensely painful periods are not normal. Early detection can result in better management of the condition. For more information, women should speak with a healthcare provider.