6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Endometriosis
Are you a mother struggling with painful periods? It could be endometriosis. Don't let the big name scare you, it can be managed with some lifestyle changes. Read on to know more.
By Aarthi Arun
Endometriosis mostly occurs in women in the prime of their lives, and can adversely affect their quality of life. In India, 6–10 per cent of women suffer from this painful condition.
So, what happens in endometriosis? The endometrium is the tissue that lines the uterus. When it grows out of the uterus — usually in the ovaries, fallopian tubes or in the tissues surrounding ovaries and uterus, the condition is called endometriosis. Due to the influence of female hormones, the tissue grows every month like the uterus lining. However, unlike the uterus lining, the tissue outside the uterus cannot bleed in the form of menstrual blood. So, it may sometimes forms a lump or a cyst. In an ultrasound, it may appear as a cyst that is filled with blood. This condition can cause pain in the lower abdomen. Often, it can go undetected for months or even years.
Symptoms and Causes
The classic symptom of endometriosis is heavy periods with severe pain in the lower abdomen. The pain usually starts before the periods and lasts till the bleeding stops. Endometriosis can distort the structure of the uterus, fallopian tube and ovaries, so it is not uncommon to see fertility issues as a symptom for the condition. It can cause infertility in about 20–40 per cent of individuals. Another common complaint with endometriosis is pain during sexual intercourse. In advanced cases, there can be irregularities in bowel movements and rectal pain as well.
The exact cause of endometriosis is not known. There are various theories, and the most popular one is that the menstrual blood from the uterus back-flows into the abdominal cavity through the fallopian tubes resulting in endometriosis. Some women may have genes which predispose them to develop endometriosis. Environmental pollutants and chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers are also some of the culprits.
6 things that you should know about endometriosis
- Endometriosis is a disease of young age: It is widely believed that endometriosis occurs only in adult women. But, the latest research suggests that around 70 to 73 per cent of adolescent girls with pelvic pain suffer from this condition. Also, painful periods remain as the foremost reason for school absence in adolescent girls. A few risk factors for endometriosis are starting menstruation at a young age, heavy blood flow during periods and having a longer duration of periods that last more than 7 days.
- A proper examination is necessary for correct diagnosis: It takes 7.5 years on average to diagnose endometriosis in a woman correctly. This is because the symptoms are unique for each individual. Also, endometriosis can mimic the symptoms of other diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or pelvic inflammatory disease. Tests like ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and laparoscopy are required to confirm the condition.
- The condition is not malignant: Any unwanted growth in the body can ring alarm bells, but endometriosis is a painful yet harmless condition. It is a chronic, long-term disease that can be managed with painkillers and hormone supplements.
- The size of the cyst has no correlation with the symptom: The size of the cyst can range from 2 to 8 inches. However, the severity of the symptoms doesn't always depend on the size of the cyst. Some women may not feel any symptoms at all.
- A woman may need help in conceiving: Severe endometriosis can scar the tissues in the ovaries. As a result of which, the ovaries become less efficient, which often leads to infertility. Endometriosis can also cause blockage in the fallopian tubes, hindering the movement of eggs. Furthermore, inflammation in the uterus can damage the sperm and eggs. While women with mild endometriosis have near normal chances of conception, women with severe endometriosis can increase their chances by surgically removing the cysts and lumps. Drugs are found to be ineffective in treating the condition. Interestingly, pregnancy can lessen the symptoms of endometriosis.
- Treatment depends on the symptoms, need and severity: If the condition is only mild, the first line of treatment is drugs like painkillers and hormone tablets. For severe cases, surgical intervention or laparoscopy may be called for. A specialist called reproductive endocrinologist can treat infertility associated with endometriosis. For women past their reproductive age with severe endometriosis, hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) will be recommended.
Endometriosis is a lifelong condition with no cure. But, worry not – you can manage the condition with lifestyle changes, a healthy diet and exercise.
With inputs from Dr Mukta Kapila, Director, Obstetrics and Gynaecology at a leading hospital in Gurugram.
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