What is Endometriosis?
By Annette Pinder
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, endometriosis affects about 2 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age in the U.S. The condition comes from the word “endometrium,” which is the tissue that lines the uterus. During a woman’s regular menstrual cycle, this tissue builds up and is shed if she does not become pregnant.
Emily LaDuca, a women’s health nurse practitioner, who focuses on women’s health at the Community Health Center of Buffalo, Inc. explains, “A woman who has endometriosis develops endometrial cells and tissue outside of the uterus, whereas normal endometrial tissue is only found inside the uterus as part of the uterine lining. Throughout the menstrual cycle, this misplaced tissue reacts to fluctuating hormonal changes, which leads to thickening and breaking down of the endometrial tissue. This then causes inflammation and swelling within the pelvis, which leads to scarring, and causes chronic pelvic pain. Endometriosis most commonly occurs in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus, and ligaments that support the uterus and the lining of the pelvic cavity. Less frequently, it can be found on the intestines, rectum, bladder, cervix, or at abdominal surgical scars.”
While researchers aren’t sure about the cause of endometriosis, theories include: 1) that some of the tissue backs up through the fallopian tubes into the abdomen where it attaches and grows; 2) that endometrial tissue travels and implants the way cancer cells spread; or 3) that cells anywhere transform into endometrial cells. Endometriosis can also occur from direct transplantation in the abdominal wall after a cesarean section. “It is also thought that there may be a genetic component to endometriosis,” says LaDuca.
Women at increased risk of developing endometriosis are those with a mother, sister, or daughter with the disease; those giving birth for the first time after age 30; and those with an abnormal uterus. Common symptoms of endometriosis include excessive menstrual cramps felt in the abdomen or lower back at any point in the menstrual cycle; pain during intercourse; abnormal or heavy menstrual flow; inability to become pregnant; painful urination during menstrual periods; painful bowel movements during menstrual periods; diarrhea, constipation, and/or nausea. Women who experience these symptoms or any other chronic pelvic pain lasting three to six months or more, should be seen by a gynecologist.
A definitive diagnosis of endometriosis requires a laparoscopy and a biopsy of any suspicious tissue. Other diagnostic tests may include an ultrasound, and a CT or MRI scan. There is no cure, but treatment options can include watchful waiting; pain medication with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen; hormone therapy; or surgery. Ways to ease endometriosis pain include rest, relaxation, meditation, warm baths, avoiding constipation, getting regular exercise, and applying heat to the abdomen. Some women also benefit from treatments like traditional Chinese medicine, nutritional approaches, homeopathy, allergy management, and immune therapy. All treatment approaches should be discussed with your health provider.
Community Health Center of Buffalo provides caring, non-judgmental, and confidential low-cost or free gynecological and family health services in Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Lockport, and Niagara Falls. Learn more at www.chcb.net or call the main office at 716-986-9199.