In the past two weeks, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone mention in conversation “endometriosis.” I have several friends and family members who have endometriosis, so it is not an altogether unfamiliar subject to me. However, I have never given much thought to endometriosis. So, in writing this blog entry I hope to educate both myself and my readers a bit.
To start with the root, the word endometriosis comes from the Greek words meaning “inside” and “womb.” Remember that the endometrium is the layer lining the uterus. Here is a diagram:
The endometrium is where the embryo implants after it has been fertilized, so it is an integral part of reproducing. Without a healthy endometrium, an embryo is not likely to implant successfully.
Interestingly, too many endometrial cells are a bad thing, and this is what endometriosis is: the proliferation (spread) of endometrial cells outside of the uterus, especially common on the ovaries. These cells respond as the endometrium does to hormonal changes over the course of a menstrual cycle. So, imagine that you have endometrial cells throughout your pelvis and not just in your uterus. Menstrual cramps would be amplified–the pain difficult to bear. So, if you have particularly unmanageable menstrual pain during your period, please visit your doctor. You may have a disorder such as endometriosis. Only investigation by a medical professional can determine the source of the pain.
It is estimated that between 5-10 percent of women are affected by endometriosis. Its effects generally do not manifest until menarche (first menstrual cycle) and usually diminish following menopause, though not always. A large number of women who are infertile are infertile because of endometriosis (about 20-50%). The proportion of women with chronic pelvic pain who suffer from endometriosis is much higher (about 80%). There seems to be an increase in incidence of endometriosis in families that affected by it. Women with an immediate relative with endometriosis has a higher risk of having endometriosis. There is some association between endometriosis and certain types of cancer (especially ovarian), so it is important to know if you have endometriosis or if you have another malady with similar symptoms.
Endometriosis usually appears in patches within the pelvis that are often visible to the human eye during surgery because they can appear as darkened bluish-black spots. Here is a diagram example of endometriosis:
Not all endometriosis appears as darkened spots, so it is necessary sometime to perform biopsies to be certain. Endometriosis causes an inflammatory response that often causes scar tissue. This scar tissue is frequently problematic in a variety of ways, including being the cause of infertility. The cause of endometriosis is, so far, unknown but it is believed that there is more than one possible cause. Hopefully, further research will uncover causes that can help in management and treatment of the disease. Symptoms, too, can vary widely across endometriosis sufferers. Abdominal pain being the most common symptom, others include:
Again, it is important to remember that other disorders can have similar symptoms to endometriosis. It is crucial to consult a doctor if you are experiencing problems in order to accurately determine what you have. Never rely on an “Internet diagnosis.” This article is just scratching the surface of this topic (maybe I will write “Endometriosis: Part 2”), so please feel free to leave comments and questions!