By Kathy Hubbard
“I was diagnosed with Stage Four Endometriosis at the age of 19, and it took 7 years to get that diagnosis,” wrote a woman named Julie from New Jersey on www.fightlikeagirlclub.com. “Seven years of doctor visits, medications, surgeries, trips to the ER, and even some pretty terrible doctors along the way telling me it was ‘just bad cramps,’ and that was my lot in life for being a girl.
“After finding a specialist, I finally got the surgical diagnosis. I was happy to know what it was but terrified of the implications down the road. Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility. At 19, I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and a white picket fence, but it was something I longed for someday.”
The National Institutes of Health estimates that six to ten percent of reproductive-age women suffer from endometriosis. Some suffer worse than Julie and some not at all, making the exact number hard to calculate. It’s estimated that over five million American women (roughly 11 percent of the female population) have this disorder that typically occurs in women in their 30s and 40s but can happen to any woman who menstruates.
Let’s look at the definition from the Mayo Clinic: “Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, bowel, or the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond your pelvic region.
“In endometriosis, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would; it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped. When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions.”
You’re at risk for endometriosis if your mother, aunt, or sister has it. Other risks include never having children, starting your period at a young age (under 11), having short cycles as in 27 days or fewer, having heavy periods that last more than seven days or if you have a health problem that blocks the natural flow of your menstrual blood.
The most common symptom is pain. However, it can manifest itself differently for different women. Some women complain of very painful menstrual cramps that increasingly get worse over time. Others complain of chronic back pain. For some, sex is painful. Like a deep inside, “let’s not do it” painful. Some women have pain while urinating or moving their bowels during their period.
Infertility can be the heartbreaker. As a matter of fact, of the women who can’t conceive, over half of them have endometriosis. www.womenshealth.gov says, “No one knows exactly how endometriosis might cause infertility. Some possible reasons include: Patches of endometriosis block off or change the shape of the pelvis and reproductive organs. This can make it harder for the sperm to find the egg. The immune system, which normally helps defend the body against disease, attacks the embryo, or the endometrium does not develop as it should.”
Women’s Health also states that there is a correlation between endometriosis and other health problems, including allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivities. It can increase the risk for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or hypothyroidism. Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ovarian, and breast cancers are also linked to endometriosis.
If you suspect that you might have endometriosis, see your healthcare professional as soon as possible. If you don’t have a primary care provider, Sandpoint Women’s Health can help you if you call 208-263-2173 for an appointment.
There’s some speculation, but the medicos really don’t know what causes endometriosis. There is no cure.
“Treatment for endometriosis is usually with medications or surgery,” Mayo Clinic says. “The approach you and your doctor choose will depend on the severity of your signs and symptoms and whether you hope to become pregnant. Generally, doctors recommend trying conservative treatment approaches first, opting for surgery as a last resort.” That sounds like a good idea to me.