Endometriosis: Symptoms, Causes and Effective Treatment
Endometriosis is a condition that affects many women and is characterized by the presence of uterine tissue outside of the uterus. This tissue behaves like endometrium tissue inside the uterus does, in that it thickens and bleeds during each menstrual cycle. The problem is, this extra fluid becomes trapped around the pelvic organs, causing irritation and growth of connective tissue in response.
If left untreated, endometriosis can result in serious complications, but fortunately, treatments are available. And, in many cases, restoring proper hormonal balance, nutrition, and stress levels can help.
What are Complications and Symptoms of Endometriosis?
There are numerous symptoms associated with endometriosis, including:
- Pelvic pain – Pelvic pain is a primary symptom of endometriosis, and typically becomes more intense prior to and during menstruation, or during sexual intercourse. Pain may also get worse during urination or defecation.
In addition to pelvic pain, abdominal and lower back pain may also be present.
- Excessive menstrual bleeding – Bleeding during menstruation tends to be much heavier in women suffering from endometriosis. There’s also a chance that you may bleed between menstrual periods.
- Fatigue – While fatigue is not closely associated with endometriosis, it can result from the added physical strain placed on the body.
- Gastrointestinal upset – In addition to pain and fatigue, women frequently report concurrent GI symptoms as well, including nausea, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
These signs may point to endometriosis. If they do, it’s important to seek medical care and consider available treatments. That’s because the condition can lead to further complications if not treated promptly. The most serious complications include:
- Infertility – Endometriosis is a leading cause of fertility issues in women. In fact, up to 50 percent of women with endometriosis have trouble getting pregnant. Doctors recommend that women with endometriosis who do want to get pregnant consider doing so quickly, as the condition can worsen with age.
It’s not completely clear how endometriosis interferes with fertility, but it appears to cause damage to both the egg and sperm, in addition to complicating the attachment process between the fertilized egg and the uterine wall.
- Cancer – Endometriosis is also associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Ovarian cancer rates are higher in women with the condition, for one. More concerning is the increased risk of adenocarcinomas around the pelvic organs.
Endometriosis Can be Caused by Several Factors
Endometriosis may point to systemic issues in the body, as it’s frequently the result of poor hormonal balance. Researchers have noted a connection between hormone levels and the likelihood of developing endometriosis. Here’s how they may interact:
- Peritoneal cells may be transformed – Although the process isn’t well understood, it appears that the presence of estrogen can cause some peritoneal (abdominal wall) cells to transform themselves into endometrial cells. The hormone signaling underpinning this process is still being researched.
- Embryonic cells may also be transformed – The presence of estrogen can also cause some embryonic cells to undergo the same type of transformation into endometrial cells. Embryonic cells are cells in the earliest stages of development and retain the flexibility to develop into most other types of cells.
In addition to hormone-related causes, endometriosis may also be caused by:
- Trapped menstrual blood – During a menstrual period, it’s possible for menstrual blood to backflow into the fallopian tubes instead of leaving the body. When this happens, the residual blood can deposit endometrial tissue on other pelvic organs and result in excess tissue buildup.
- The presence of a surgical scar – Any surgery that leaves a scar on reproductive organs – the uterus primarily – can cause endometrial tissue to become trapped and to collect around the incision.
- Problems with the immune system – In some women, the problem comes from the immune system. Immunological disorders can make it difficult for the body to recognize endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, so the body doesn’t clean it up as it should.
How Can Women Treat Endometriosis?
About 10 percent of women in their reproductive years will experience endometriosis during their lifetime. The complications, as we’ve seen, can be concerning. There is hope, though, because endometriosis treatments are available and most preventative measures promote overall health as well. Some of the steps women can take to control their endometriosis include:
- Restoring hormonal balance with herbal supplements or medications – In many patients, hormonal imbalances are at the root of endometriosis. If hormonal imbalances are the root cause, there are herbal supplements that can help. Some of these supplements directly impact hormone levels, while others help with stress reduction, which can also help with endometriosis.
- Reducing stress levels – Stress and menstrual issues are closely correlated, and that’s true for women with endometriosis, too. Research shows that women suffering from high levels of chronic stress are more likely to develop endometriosis.
Reducing stress levels can reduce the likelihood of an episode and reduce pain in women experiencing an endometriosis episode.
- Replenishing nutrition – Poor diet can exacerbate endometriosis symptoms and improving nutritional uptake can improve any systemic issues producing hormone imbalances. Digestive supplements, including a protease supplement and probiotic, can help with nutrition absorption and support hormone-producing organs.
Endometriosis is Painful and Can Cause Complications, but it’s Also Treatable
Endometriosis is a common condition among women of reproductive age. It can cause severe pain, particularly before and during menstrual periods. It’s also a chronic condition that requires long-term management. There are management options available, though, that can help restore hormonal balance and reduce the chances of future endometriosis episodes.