What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis. You know you’ve heard the word before and you’re almost certain it’s some kind of disease-certainly sounds like one, anyway-but if pressed to name a symptom or part of the body it affects, could you do it?

Endometriosis is a disease that receives its name from the fact that it affects the tissue that lines the uterus, also known as the endometrium. Good news and bad: The good news is that if you are man, you probably don’t have to worry about contracting endometriosis. The bad news, of course, is that any women can potentially develop the disease after the onset of menstruation. What is endometriosis, then? It is a disease in which the endometrium, or lining, begins to grow on the exterior of the uterus. It is a particularly frustrating condition because as of yet, nobody is really sure why it happens.

The endometrium begins to grow somewhere else in the pelvic cavity, exterior to the uterus, either directly on or somewhere beneath the ovaries, or else behind the uterus. Sometimes the growth occurs on the bowels of the bladder. It has even been known to occasionally grow outside the pelvic cavity, though these cases are, thankfully, rare indeed. The result of endometrium growth outside the uterus is the development of large growths, often referred to as tumors, but which in fact are not usually cancerous. A better description of these growths would be lesions. Whatever they may be called, they can be incredibly painful, even if they aren’t cancerous.

This pelvic pain is, actually, the single most common symptom of endometriosis. The onset of endometriosis pain is usually at its most acute during the period of menstruation; however the pain can potentially be felt at any point during the month. The reason for the increase in the intensity of the endometriosis pain during a woman’s period stems from the fact that the lesions, just like the lining of the uterus, produce bleeding during the menstrual process. Uterine tissue normally is shed during a woman’s period, but these endometriosis growths are incapable of being shed and as a result the pelvic pain can become excruciating. Indeed, endometriosis pain can have severe effects on a woman’s ability to enjoy life.

In those cases in which endometriosis tissue growth occurs outside the typical pelvic cavity areas, other symptoms can occur. These symptoms will depend upon where in the body the growth occurs. Among the possible complications: difficulty in urinating and pain during sexual intercourse. The latter, painful intercourse, is actually one of the symptoms that alerts doctors to check for endometriosis. There are other warning signals besides painful intercourse. It might be advisable to consult a doctor if you experience any of the following: consistently experiencing diarrhea or constipation only during menstruation; unusually heavy bleeding during your period if you have always been light in the past; extreme tiredness during your period.

Will seeing a doctor really do any good? After all, there is endometriosis cure at the moment, so what can a doctor do other maybe give you something to relieve the pain? While it is true there isn’t any actual endometriosis cure, there are several endometriosis treatments available. When the endometriosis is relatively mild the treatment often involves simple physician maintenance. The doctor monitors the patient during regular examinations, and may possibly prescribe a pain reliever like ibuprofen if the pain become more severe.

Another endometriosis treatment found to be effective is hormone therapy. This treatment is favored because of its ability to effectively manage several of the endometriosis symptoms. Estrogen is used to thicken the lining of the uterus and progesterone facilitates the voiding of the uterine lining during a woman’s period. Another endometriosis treatment uses Danazol, a form of testosterone that serves to lessen the amount of estrogen produced by ovaries to nearly the same level as takes place during menopause. This reduction of estrogen levels causes the endometrial cells to shrink and, over time, disappear completely. The downside is that Danazol also comes with several side effects, everything from mood swings to weight gain, from enlargement of the clitoris to breast size reduction. In extreme cases, the use of Danazol to treat endometriosis can even lead to depression and liver disease.

The good old birth control pill is also used as an endometriosis treatment, very often prescribed to those women with mind cases. Typically, it is used either to restrict the disease from further progression, or else to keep it from recurring in women who’ve undergone surgical treatment. As for surgical treatments for endometriosis, at the moment is all boils down to a choice. During an operative laparoscopy a tube is inserted into the abdomen, allowing for the removal of the endometrial lesions. The other surgical choice is a bit more extreme. A hysterectomy is basically a procedure to remove uterus itself along with the lesions. In some cases, the fallopian tubes and ovaries are removed as well. Unfortunately, even this severe treatment isn’t foolproof; sometimes the endometriosis reappears.

While all these endometriosis treatments are effective in their own way, it is still important to remember that none of them are cures. Each treatment provides certain benefits, as well as certain drawbacks, but none of them alone or in conjunction with any other treatment will bring complete reassurance that you have beaten the disease, even if the pain does temporarily lessen.

One last note. No matter what you may hear from anyone, pregnancy does not cure endometriosis! This old wives’ tale or urban legend or however you want to describe it probably stems from the fact that the condition of some women does improve upon becoming pregnant. However, it is also true that the condition of other women actually worsens. Do not even think about getting pregnant as a means of curing endometriosis.

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