Endometriosis is a medical condition that affects 1 in 10 premenopausal women worldwide (1). That is approximately 176 million women! It is a serious issue, which may cause complications like infertility and even cancer if left untreated.
Is your menstrual cycle irregular but extremely painful? Have you been experiencing unusually heavy bleeding as well? Chances are you could be dealing with endometriosis. Keep reading to find more about this condition and how you can manage it.
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What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a painful medical condition that causes the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to grow outside it. It mainly affects the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the lining of the pelvis (2). In rare cases, the endometrial tissue may also spread beyond the pelvic organs.
The displaced endometrial lining acts as it normally would and will thicken, break down, and bleed every cycle. However, since the endometrium is outside the uterus, it doesn’t have any way to exit your body, thereby becoming trapped.
If endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts referred to as endometriomas may develop.
Depending on the location, size, number, and depth of the endometrial implants, endometriosis can be classified into the following stages.
Stages Of Endometriosis
Endometriosis can be divided into four stages (3):
- Stage 1 – Minimal: Small lesions, along with shallow endometrial implants on the ovaries, characterize minimal endometriosis. Inflammation in or around the cavity may also be noticed.
- Stage 2 – Mild: Mild endometriosis is characterized by light lesions accompanied by shallow implants on the ovary and pelvic lining.
- Stage 3 – Moderate: This stage is characterized by deep implants on your ovary as well as your pelvic lining. More lesions may also be observed.
- Stage 4 – Severe: Stage 4 is the most severe stage of endometriosis. It involves deep implants on your pelvic lining and ovaries. This may also be accompanied by lesions on your fallopian tubes and/or bowels.
The exact cause of endometriosis is yet to be fully understood. Researchers have stated multiple theories, but none of them have been fully understood.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Possible factors that could be causing endometriosis include (4):
- Embryonic cells that are lining the abdomen and pelvis may end up developing into endometrial tissue within these cavities.
- Instead of leaving the body as it usually does, menstrual blood could have entered the pelvis and fallopian tubes.
- Endometriosis could be present in the developing fetus, which may be triggered by estrogen levels.
- Surgical procedures like hysterectomy or C-section.
- An immune system disorder can prevent your body from recognizing and destroying the endometrial tissue that has been growing outside your uterus.
The following section lists the signs and symptoms of the condition.
Symptoms Of Endometriosis
The signs and symptoms associated with endometriosis include (3):
- Dysmenorrhea or painful periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain while urinating or during a bowel movement
- Excessive bleeding during or in between your periods
- Infertility or inability to conceive
Other signs often associated with endometriosis include constipation or diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and fatigue.
Certain factors may put a woman at an increased risk of developing endometriosis. They are as follows.
Factors that can increase your risk of getting endometriosis include (5):
- Opting never to give birth
- Early onset of the menstrual cycle
- Late onset of menopause
- Short menstrual cycles that are less than 27 days
- Heavy menstrual bleeding that lasts for more than 7 days
- High estrogen levels in your body
- A low body mass index
- Having one or more family members (women) with endometriosis
- Having any medical condition that prevents normal passage of menstrual blood during your menstrual cycle
- Abnormalities with your reproductive tract
If endometriosis is severe or left untreated, it may eventually lead to the following complications.
Two of the most severe complications associated with endometriosis are infertility and cancer.
About half of the women with endometriosis may experience impaired fertility or may have difficulties in conceiving.
The incidence of cancer, especially ovarian cancer and endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma, is also observed to be higher in women dealing with endometriosis. However, it should be noted that the risk of developing ovarian cancer is low generally.
If you notice any of the symptoms associated with endometriosis or if you think you may be at risk, it is best to get yourself diagnosed to rule out the possibilities.
How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of endometriosis is usually based on your symptoms. Tests that your doctor may suggest to check your symptoms and detect physical clues are (6):
- A pelvic examination to look for abnormalities like cysts or scars behind the uterus
- An ultrasound to detect cysts that surface with endometriosis
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to find out the exact location and size of the endometrial implants
- Laparoscopy to help in looking for signs of endometriosis outside your uterus
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may discuss different treatment approaches with you to deal with endometriosis.
How To Treat Endometriosis
Treatment for endometriosis can include (7):
- Warm Baths Or Heating Pads
Heating pads and warm baths can help in alleviating pain in mild to moderate cases of endometriosis.
- Alternative Medicine
Alternative treatment approaches for endometriosis include acupuncture, which may help relieve symptoms of pain.
Surgery may be conservative, where only the endometrial implants are removed while the uterus and ovaries are preserved. This procedure is known as laparoscopic surgery.
Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) and oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries) were previously thought of as the most effective treatments for endometriosis. But, of late, doctors are focusing more on only the removal of the endometrial implants.
- Fertility Treatment
Fertility treatment may involve stimulation of your ovaries or producing more eggs in vitro. Discuss the treatment options with your doctor to find which one will work best for you.
- Pain Medications
Over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may also be prescribed to relieve symptoms of pain usually associated with menstrual cramps.
Your diet may also play a significant role if you have endometriosis. The following are some diet tips that may help.
What Foods To Eat If You Have Endometriosis?
Certain foods may reduce one’s risk of developing endometriosis. They include (8):
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Fish oils and omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods like fatty fish and flax seeds
- Dairy products
- Vitamin D-rich foods like tuna, mackerel, cheese, and egg yolks
Foods that are associated with an increased risk of endometriosis and must be avoided are:
- Red meat
- Trans fats like junk foods and deep fried foods
There is no cure for endometriosis as the exact causes haven’t been determined yet. But this does not mean that you cannot go on with your daily routine. The treatment methods mentioned in the article can help you manage the pain and other associated issues.
We hope all your doubts and queries related to endometriosis were covered in this post. Do you have any further questions? Do not hesitate to ask us in the comments section below.
Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions
What happens if endometriosis is left untreated?
Leaving endometriosis untreated can increase your risk of developing complications from it like infertility and cancer, which may become life-threatening as well.
Is eating chicken bad for those with endometriosis?
Chicken is lean meat like fish and turkey. It is thus a healthier diet choice than red meat.
Can endometriosis cause weight gain?
While endometriosis is associated with weight gain in a few affected women, the exact relationship between the two is yet to be determined. One possible explanation is estrogen dominance, which may manifest itself externally as weight gain.
Can stress make endometriosis worse?
The pain associated with endometriosis can trigger high levels of stress, which, in turn, has an exacerbating effect on endometriosis.
Can treating endometriosis improve my fertility?
Yes, treating endometriosis can have a positive effect and may improve a woman’s fertility.
Can you get pregnant if you have endometriosis?
Almost one-third of women with endometriosis were observed to conceive naturally, without the need for any fertility treatment.
What is the difference between endometriosis and menstrual cramps?
Though a few symptoms of endometriosis and menstrual cramps may be similar, both the conditions are, in fact, different.
Menstrual cramps are caused due to the contraction of the uterus. Pain, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea are some of the common signs associated with menstrual cramps, which are quite similar to the symptoms experienced by those with endometriosis.
Endometriosis, on the other hand, is caused when the endometrial tissues are implanted outside the uterus instead of inside it. This implantation may cause inflammation, which triggers the pain.
- “Endometriosis Fact Sheet” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- “Endometriosis: Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Clinical Management.” Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Endometriosis: Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Clinical Management” Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “What causes endometriosis?” Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Risk factors associated with endometriosis: importance of study population for characterizing disease in the ENDO Study” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Endometriosis” BMJ, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Treatment options for endometriosis” Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Influence of diet on the risk of developing endometriosis.” Ginekologia Polska, US National Library Of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.