By Maria “Makana” Thomas, Contributing Writer

Endometriosis Awareness Month occurs in March. During this time, many women and organizations bring awareness about endometriosis. The Endometriosis March of 2015 was sponsored by Howard University. The second annual march took place on Saturday, March 28 in Washington DC. There was also a series of marches taking place in 56 cities worldwide on the same day.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a disease that causes severe pain, scarring and infertility in women. Endometriosis occurs when there is an abnormal growth within endometrial cells. These cells are similar to the tissue found within the lining of the uterus. The abnormal growths take place outside of the uterus within the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the ligaments that support the uterus, the intestines, the bladder, the internal area between the vagina and rectum, and the lining of the pelvic cavity. Endometriosis is a condition that is believed to affect more than five million women, including teenage girls in America alone, and an estimated 176 million women worldwide.

There are also many women who have this condition who are still undiagnosed and not receiving treatment. Physicians have not identified what causes the development of endometriosis. It is believed that the condition can be hereditary and there is the possibility that the abnormal endometrial cells may be present outside of the uterus as early as birth. Physicians also consider that the abnormal cells may transport themselves during the menstrual cycle, surgery, or just through the bloodstream.

The most common age that women begin to experience symptoms is in their 30s and 40s. According to a MedicineNet article by Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, infertility can be the first sign of endometriosis in many women. About 30 percent to 40 percent of women with endometriosis have some trouble conceiving. The reason for this is not well understood, and scarring of the reproductive tract may play a role. Hormonal factors also may be involved. Fortunately, treatments to overcome infertility are effective for many women.

Symptoms

One of the most common symptoms is pain. Pain could occur during or after the menstrual cycle, during urination, bowel movements, or during sexual activity. Diagnosing a patient with endometriosis is not an easy feat because there are many women who are diagnosed without symptoms and others who have the symptoms but are not diagnosed.

Diagnoses

There are currently three procedures available to help diagnose endometriosis. To aid your doctor in diagnosing your condition, it is a good idea to keep track and take notes about the symptoms you are experiencing in between appointments. Within your notes, include the duration and location of the pain, the pain level, as well as any changes in the severity of the pain.

  • Pelvic exam: A pelvic examination will help your doctor identify anything abnormal in the ovaries, cervix, or uterus. This exam can sometime reveal masses, scars, or cysts that are due to endometriosis.
  • Pelvic scans: The pelvic scan is unable to verify the diagnoses of endometriosis but through the use of the CT, MRI or ultrasound, physicians are able to get an image of what is going on inside, as well as view the larger regions of abnormalities, such as cysts, endometriosis, or scarring.
  • Laparoscopy: Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that is available to ultimately confirm and diagnose endometriosis. It is a procedure performed by a surgeon who will physically examine the abdomen and pelvis. A small incision is made and tissue samples will be taken and examined by a clinical pathologist to verify the diagnoses. 

Treatment

Currently, there are a few treatment options available for women who are diagnosed with endometriosis.

  • Pain Medicine: Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are prescribed to help temporarily relieve the pain caused by the endometriosis.
  • Birth Control Pills: Oral contraceptives are prescribed to control the hormone levels. This can sometimes decrease the pain and eliminate the menstrual cycle.
  • Excision: During the laparoscopy surgical procedure, the surgeon is able to remove any scarring or abnormal growth. After this procedure, many women have reported that they did not experience any more pain. Research has shown that an estimated 45 percent of women’s symptoms return over time.

Living with Endometriosis

The occurrence of endometriosis cannot be prevented or highlighted on a timeline but some lifestyle changes can help to control the pain and decrease the symptoms. Exercising, yoga, massages and meditation are all things women can do to control the symptoms and pain.

For more information about endometriosis awareness, treatment or diagnoses, please visit www.endometriosis.org and www.endomarch.org


Image: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons