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Endometriosis is Common and Often Painful

Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological illnesses, which can affect a woman at any age from her first period to menopause. Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus begins growing outside of the uterus on the surface of organs such as the ovaries, bowel, or the tissue lining the pelvis, where it is not supposed to grow. Doctors refer to these areas of endometriosis as implants, lesions, or nodules.

This misplaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would: it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because it is not where it is supposed to be, it has no way to exit the body and becomes trapped. Surrounding tissue becomes irritated and develops scar tissue and adhesions that can proceed to bind organs together.

Endometriosis is common and often painful

The most common symptom of endometriosis is pain, commonly in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvic areas. Surprisingly, however, the amount of pain a woman feels is not linked to how much endometriosis she has. Some women have pain before and during their periods, or during or after sex. The pain can be so intense that it impacts their quality of life and their relationships. Some women, however, have no pain even though their endometriosis is extensive. Others have severe pain and yet have only a few small areas of endometriosis. Your AOA doctor can help sort through your symptoms and determine the best options for finding relief.

Symptoms

The symptoms of pain can be wide-ranging, and can include:

  • Extremely painful (or disabling) menstrual cramps, which may get worse over time
  • Chronic pelvic pain (includes lower back pain and pelvic pain)
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Intestinal pain
  • Painful bowel movements or painful urination during menstrual periods
  • Infertility

Sometimes, endometriosis can be mistaken for other conditions, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). To complicate things even more, sometimes IBS can accompany endometriosis.

If you have symptoms that may indicate endometriosis, make an appointment to see your AOA physician. Catching the disease early can help you avoid pain and potential complications.

How does endometriosis affect fertility?

About 30 percent to 40 percent of women with endometriosis are infertile, making it one of the top three causes of female infertility, and the subject of ongoing research. Some studies suggest that the condition may change the uterus so it does not accept an embryo. Other work has looked at whether endometriosis changes the egg, or whether endometriosis gets in the way of moving a fertilized egg to the uterus.

Treatment options include pain relievers, hormones, and surgery. Factors such as your desire to become pregnant, the extent of the scarring and pain, a will inform the treatment.

There is no way to prevent endometriosis, but there are some potential risk factors, including having a close relative with endometriosis; having a short menstrual cycle -- less than 25 days; menstrual flow that lasts more than a week; or having a medical condition or birth defect that blocks or constricts your cervix or vagina.

If you are diagnosed with the disease you will want to discus with your AOA doctor all of the options. Factors such as your desire to become pregnant, and the extent of the scarring and pain will help to decide the treatment plan.

Learn more about endometriosis: