Millions of American women — upwards of seven million — are diagnosed with endometriosis each year. But many more have endometriosis and don’t know it. Endometriosis affects women differently and can be hard to diagnose. Many of my fertility patients are all too aware, because it commonly affects a woman’s ability to get pregnant. So what is endometriosis and should you worry about it? Read on.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when inner uterus tissue begins to grow outside the uterus. Because the tissue is not enclosed by the uterus at this point, it begins to grow out of control. The endometrial cells may also begin to grow on the fallopian tubes, bowels or ovaries.
Does endometriosis affect my fertility?
Yes, in some cases. The abnormal growth of cells can block passage between the ovaries and fallopian tubes making ovulation difficult if not impossible. And if endometriosis causes you pain during or after sex, that makes it harder to have regular sex when trying to conceive. It’s important to note that some of the treatments for endometriosis (for example birth control) may also affect your fertility.
What causes endometriosis?
We haven’t identified for certain the root cause of endometriosis, though some theories correlate to its occurrence. If menstrual blood flows back through the uterine cavity instead of out of the vagina (known as retrograde menstruation), this may increase the occurrence. Another possible explanation may be that women with endometriosis may have some sort of immune system dysfunction that prevents their immune system from destroying the endometrial cells growing outside the uterus.
How do I know if I have endometriosis?
You may have endometriosis and experience no symptoms (lucky you). If you’re experiencing pelvic pain such as painful menstrual cramps that continue to worsen, painful sex, lower back pain or abnormal bowel movements/urination, this may be an indication of endometriosis.
Sometimes women are diagnosed after experiencing fertility issues. Other seemingly unrelated symptoms of endometriosis are nausea and diarrhea. The important takeaway is to listen to your body and visit a doctor when you feel like something isn’t right.
Who is most at risk of endometriosis?
Although any woman who still has periods may get endometriosis, the condition primarily attacks women of younger reproductive ages between 15 and 45. Additionally, women who have not given birth, have one or more close relatives that has endometriosis, or have a history of pelvic infection experience endometriosis at higher rates.
How do I treat endometriosis?
If you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, know that right now there is no “cure” for the condition. There are ways to control or reduce the growth of abnormally placed endometrial cells. Each case of endometriosis will vary greatly in severity, size of growths and location. Because of this, each treatment will be different.
Sometimes surgery to remove the cells will be in the best interest of the woman. In other cases medications can be prescribed that will reduce and manage symptoms. Birth control, although not prescribed for those wanting to conceive, is a common method of managing the symptoms of endometriosis.
It’s important to listen to your body and visit a physician if you think you may have endometriosis — even if you’re not trying to get pregnant. Even though you will have to live with endometriosis, you and your doctor will be able to come up with a custom treatment plan that will reduce pain and maintain quality of life.