Endometriosis is a progressive and chronic condition experienced by females, and typically happens when cells similar to those that line the uterus (endometrial cells) are found in other parts of the body. It commonly occurs in the pelvis and will effect a women’s reproductive system if left untreated. Around 1 in 10 women of reproductive age are expected to experience the condition during their lifetime. An estimated 200 million women worldwide have been diagnosed with the condition. Women with endometriosis have been shown to have increased risks of high cholesterol levels and heart disease.
Endometrial cells are typically found on the lining of the uterus, but may also start to grow in patches on other pelvic organs, or even on the inside lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum). These patches will have the exhibit the same menstrual changes outside the uterus as inside the uterus, and may bleed at the same time of your menstruation cycle. Endometrial tissue and patches are known as endometrial lesions. Endometrial cells found outside your uterus will cause inflammation and scarring should they bleed or leak fluid during period cycles. As these patches occur outside the uterus, they cannot pass out of our body and will remain, potentially developing into cysts or nodules over time. If cysts develop in the ovaries, they are called endometriomas, otherwise called ‘chocolate cysts’ due to their dark color.
There are no known causes for endometriosis, but there are several factors that have been identified that may increase the likelihood of endometriosis. Family history is shown to increase the likelihood of endometriosis by up to 7-10 times. Retrograde menstruation, when period blood flows backwards along the fallopian tubes also increases the likelihood of endometriosis. Finally, metaplasia, pregnancies at higher maternal age, short period cycles and excessive alcohol use may also contribute to endometriosis.
Extreme pain during periods is a key identifier of endometriosis. However, it is not an indicator of how severe the condition is. Instead, it is an indicator of where the endometrial lesions are located. Asides from pain, other symptoms of endometriosis can include pain during sexual intercourse, heavy/irregular bleeding, pain during bowel movements/urination, nausea, fatigue and infertility. Symptoms are known to vary widely and will depend on where the endometrial lesions are located. However, symptoms tend to be progressive, meaning they will become more severe with time.
Should you experience painful periods it must be understood that this isn’t normal. In particular, you should see your doctor as soon as possible if you find yourself unable to work, go to school or partake in recreational activities due to extreme period pain.
A range of treatments are available depending on the severity of your condition, and treatments are specifically targeted to each individual, depending on their symptoms and circumstances. There are many options available, ranging from healthy lifestyle changes, pain relief medications and hormone therapy. In some cases, surgery such as laparoscopy, laparotomy and hysterectomy may also be recommended.
Women’s Health Melbourne