Bringing Awareness to Endometriosis

Significant abdominal pain is an extremely common problem due to a wide variety of causes and conditions. Many women associate their chronic abdominal or pelvic pain with their menstrual cycle and do whatever they need to do to suffer through it. But for some women, that pain could be an indication of something more serious.

Endometriosis is a chronic reproductive system illness affecting 1 in 10 women in the United States. While some women experience no symptoms at all, the most common symptom is abnormal pelvic pain. Other symptoms of the illness may include:

  • Pain before and during periods
  • Pain during sex
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Painful urination during periods
  • Painful bowel movements during periods

Unfortunately, endometriosis is not a well-understood condition. It’s difficult to diagnose, because it requires pelvic examination through a laparoscopy in which doctors make an incision in the belly and insert a tube with a tiny camera to check organs for signs of tissue scarring and buildup.

In endometriosis, uterine tissues grow outside of the uterus. This displaced tissue continues to act as it would within the uterus, which means it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with every menstrual cycle. The extra tissue has no way to exit the body, so it builds up and becomes trapped, leading to pain and, for some women, infertility.

Since pain during or around a woman’s menstrual cycle is viewed as normal or expected, it can be very challenging to determine when that pain might indicate a chronic condition. Many women report experiencing years of pain before finally receiving a diagnosis.

Currently there are no cures for endometriosis, and no known cause to explain why some women develop it and others do not. Once endometriosis is diagnosed, the focus is on pain management and therapies to help improve one’s quality of life. Depending upon individual symptoms and goals, treatment may include painkillers, surgery, hormonal medical therapies, oral contraceptives and even surgery to remove excess scar tissue.