What is Endometriosis? Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that is similar to the tissues that lines the inside of the womb grows in other areas, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.


Endometriosis can often be very painful and significantly impact your life, and it can affect women of any age.





Symptoms of Endometriosis


The main symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain associated with the menstrual cycle. While lots of people experience period pain, those with endometriosis often suffer with a pain that is much more intense. This pain can be really debilitating to everyday life and can increase over time.


Main symptoms of endometriosis:


  • Significant pain in your pelvis, lower back or lower tummy area that worsens during the menstrual cycle

  • Pain during or after sex

  • Pain when weeing and pooing during your period

  • Intermenstrual bleeding

  • Excessive bleeding during the menstrual cycle

  • Nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your wee during your period

  • Infertility or difficulty falling pregnant

  • Fatigue during your period


Endometriosis can be an extremely painful and uncomfortable condition to live with. It can take both an emotional and physical toll on your health, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone.


Let’s look into what can cause the condition and some potential treatment options.


What causes Endometriosis?


While there are several theories as to what causes endometriosis, nothing has been confirmed just yet. Theories include:


Retrograde menstruation - this describes the process in which menstrual blood flows back through the fallopian tubes instead of leaving the body. This blood contains endometrial cells which attach themselves to the organs of the pelvis and grow thicker. They bleed throughout each menstrual cycle, which is why you may get an excess amount of blood during your cycle.


Genetics - endometriosis seems to run in families, so there may be a genetic element.


An issue with the immune system - immune system disorders are more common in women with endometriosis. A dysfunctioning immune system may also be failing to identify and destroy endometrial tissue that is growing outside of the uterus.


Hormones - it is thought that the hormone oestrogen promotes endometriosis, and therefore, having high levels of oestrogen in your body may be a risk factor.


Surgery - after a surgery such as a C Section, endometrial cells may stick to the surgical scar.


Treatments for Endometriosis


Treatments for endometriosis most often involve pain remedies or surgery. This will depend on how severe your endometriosis is. Some of the most common treatments include:


Pain Relievers


Medication - Your doctor may recommend over the counter pain medication to help ease the symptoms you’re experiencing. Whether it’s Ibuprofen or Paracetamol, they can be a good short term pain reliever when your symptoms are particularly bad.


Heat pads - Investing in a heat pad that you apply to your abdomen can help ease the pain. This is recommended often by others who have endometriosis.


Warm bath - applying heat throughout the body can help ease menstrual cramps and lower back pain. It helps relax tight muscles and will leave you feeling soothed and relaxed.


Hormone Therapy


During menstruation, our hormonal cycle causes endometrial cells to thicken, bleed and grow. Naturally, this can worsen the pain and cause heavy bleeding which are both debilitating side effects of endometriosis. Hormone therapy helps slow this growth and possibly prevents new growth areas. However, hormone therapy isn’t a long term fix - once you stop the hormone therapy, your symptoms may return.


Birth Control Pills - the contraceptive pill is a common treatment for endometriosis. It helps control the hormones that drive growth of endometrial tissue, helping with pain and the reduction of blood flow.


Progestogens - progestogens are synthetic hormones which mimic the natural hormone progesterone. They help prevent the growth of endometrial cells and come in different formats, including a pill, injection or implant. Progestogens can come with unwanted side effects including bloating, mood changes and irregular bleeding.


Keyhole Surgery


A laparoscopy is where a surgeon makes small incisions in your tummy and a small tube is inserted, with a camera on the end, which displays the inside of your tummy or pelvis to a monitor that the surgeon can see.


This enables the surgeon to identify the areas in which endometriosis tissues need to be destroyed or removed. The surgery happens under general aesthetic as small tools are used to apply heat or laser to the affected areas.


This conservative type of surgery can help reduce symptoms and remove the endometrial tissues, but problems can occur and further surgery may be needed if some areas are left behind.


Hysterectomy


If you have tried a laparoscopy or you are not concerned about fertility, a full hysterectomy may be an option. This involves the removal of the uterus and sometimes the ovaries, too. This is a major operation and cannot be undone, so it is a decision that should be discussed thoroughly with your GP.


Experts in the field are slowly moving away from this approach as they have developed a means to remove only the endometriosis tissue.


Even after a hysterectomy, endometriosis may return, especially if the ovaries have not been removed. This is why other options should be explored and discussed first.


Diagnosis


Your healthcare provider will perform a pelvic examination to help identify signs of endometriosis.


Support


If you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, you may want to explore the option of support groups where other women who understand your condition can share advice, support and encouragement. It can be a really difficult condition to live with, especially without adequate support. Reaching out and sharing experiences is a great way to pick up confidence and help you cope.

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