Endometriosis: Everything You Need to Know
Endometriosis is a common condition with plenty of misconceptions. The disease occurs when tissue called endometrium, similar to the tissue that normally lines the uterus, grows in other parts of the body. Endometriosis affects as many as one in 10 American women. It can cause pain, scarring, and even infertility.
Here at Greenville OB/GYN, we’re uniquely equipped to help women battling endometriosis. We are the only private practice in North Carolina with minimally invasive gynecologic surgery (MIGS) certification. Less than one percent of OB/GYNs in our state have this certification. Our caring specialists are ready to help you understand endometriosis and treat it through the most innovative and effective methods.
Endometriosis Causes and Risk Factors
While there’s no clear cause of endometriosis, there are several proposed theories.
- Stem cells that allow for the regeneration of endometrial lining
- Menstrual blood flowing backward through the fallopian tubes (retrograde menstruation)
- Inheriting the disease through genetics, have all been identified as possible causes of endometriosis
There are several common risk factors among those who develop endometriosis. Having a mother, sister, or daughter with the disease is one of the strongest indicators. Women who start their periods before the age of 11 are also at high risk for endometriosis. Some studies have found links between low body mass index (BMI) and endometriosis as well.
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Endometriosis can come with a host of different symptoms, and not everyone will experience the same ones. In fact, endometriosis can go undiagnosed for years because the warning signs might not be obvious. So, how do you know if you have endometriosis? There are a few common symptoms to watch out for, including:
- Abnormal or Painful Periods: Periods with heavy bleeding and abnormal pain are strong warning signs of endometriosis. Prolonged periods (seven days or more) are also key indicators of a serious issue.
- Pain During Sexual Activity: This is especially true if the disease affects the pelvic walls and vaginal tissue.
- Bowel and Urinary Complications: Pain during urination and bowel movements, blood in urine, and the frequent urge to urinate can all be signs of endometriosis. Nausea, gassiness, and constipation may also occur.
- Nerve Pain: There are many vital nerves in the uterus and around the pelvic area, so endometriosis can cause pain in various parts of the body. Back and leg pain are common symptoms and can even lead to difficulty walking.
- Physical and Mental Fatigue: Endometriosis often fuels chronic pain, which can create significant stress and even personality changes.
It’s important to take note of any of these symptoms when they present themselves. Painful periods with heavy bleeding, pain during sex, and extreme fatigue should not be ignored or considered normal.
How Is Endometriosis Treated and Is There a Cure?
Treatment for endometriosis depends on the symptoms experienced and how much the disease has progressed. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to combat pain. Hormonal treatments are often used to slow the growth of endometrial tissue.
Surgical remedies for endometriosis involve removing tissue and resolving any adhesion it may be causing. The type of surgery depends on how well lesions and affected tissue can be seen. Laparoscopic excision is typically the preferred option, especially when endometriosis lesions are easily recognized. Definitive surgeries are employed when there is widespread endometriosis involvement. A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) is the most common type of definitive endometriosis surgery. It’s important to note that a hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis, as the disease is most often located in areas outside the reproductive organs.
After surgery, most women will have relief from their pain and even improved fertility. All endometriosis cases are unique, so any surgical option must be carefully considered.
There is no cure for endometriosis. Medication and surgery can greatly improve quality of life for those fighting the disease. Unfortunately, endometriosis can return after treatment. In general, the more severe the case, the more likely the disease is to come back.
Common Endometriosis Myths
As with many diseases, there are some stubborn myths about endometriosis. These are a few of the misconceptions that persist:
- It’s Always Painful: Women with endometriosis sometimes feel no pain at all, which leads to delayed diagnoses. Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility in the United States. It’s fairly common for women to be diagnosed with the disease when they see a doctor about their fertility issues.
- It Can Be Prevented: Without a known cause for endometriosis, there’s also no clear method for preventing it. Regular exercise and taking steps to lower estrogen levels are thought to be good risk-mitigating practices.
- It Always Means Infertility: Especially for women with mild to moderate cases of endometriosis, it is possible to conceive a child. Some intervention may be required, but the disease is not a permanent barrier to motherhood.
Contact Our Experts
If you want to learn more about endometriosis, contact the compassionate team of providers and doctors near you at Greenville OB/GYN today. Dr. Kori Whitley and Dr. Jack Coiner, our MIGS-certified providers, can answer all your questions.