WHAT IS ENDOMETRIOSIS?
Endometriosis gets its name from the word endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus (womb). Tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus in other areas. These patches of endometriosis can be called growths, implants, lesions, or nodules.
Endometriosis is divided into four stages, stage 1 (least severe) to stage 4 (most severe).
Most endometriosis is found:
- on or under the ovaries
- behind the uterus
- on the tissues that hold the uterus in place
- on the bowels or bladder
Endometriosis is commonly found in the pelvis and is a condition where cells similar to those found lining the womb (uterus) are found in other parts of the body. Besides the pelvis, which includes inside or on the ovaries, behind the uterus and on the bowel and bladder, endometriosis can also be found in the lungs, chest cavity, abdominal wall scars, the navel and elsewhere in the body.
Each month that a woman is not pregnant, the uterus lining breaks down and becomes a menstrual period. The endometriosis tissue goes through a similar cycle and bleeds during menstruation. This usually causes pain during periods, inflammation and scarring and can cause organs or structures to stick to each other and can lead to distortion of the normal anatomy. This cyclical pattern is believed to be a major contributing factor in the development of symptoms associated with endometriosis.
CAUSES OF ENDOMETRIOSIS
It is not known what causes endometriosis, however there are some factors that may contribute to it and these may be inherent in families. Current theories include:
- Retrograde Menstruation. This is a popular theory that states that endometriosis occurs when cells that line the womb go backwards through the fallopian tubes into the pelvis during a normal menstrual period.
- Metaplasia. This describes a process which involves cells that are situated in the pelvis and abdomen which change, for reasons that are not fully understood, into endometrial type cells.
- Genetic predisposition. Some research suggests that endometriosis can be passed down to new generations through the genes of family members. Some families may be more susceptible to endometriosis but the causes of this are unclear.
- Lymphatic or circulatory spread Endometriosis tissue particles are thought to somehow travel round the body through the lymphatic system or in the bloodstream. This could explain why it has been found in areas such as the eyes and brain.
- Immune dysfunction. It is thought that, for some women, their immune system is not able to fight off endometriosis. Many women with endometriosis appear to have reduced immunity to other conditions. It is not known whether this contributes to endometriosis or whether it is as a result of endometriosis.
- Environmental causes. This theory suggests that certain toxins in our environment, such as dioxin, can affect the body, the immune system and reproductive system and cause endometriosis. Research studies have shown that when animals were exposed to high levels of dioxin they developed endometriosis. This theory has not yet been proven for humans.
SIGNS OF ENDOMETRIOSIS
Approximately 10% of women suffer from endometriosis and some women may have no significant symptoms of the disease. However, some common signs include:
- Pain passing urine and with bowel movements
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvis
- Painful periods
- Pain between periods in the pelvis and abdomen
- Difficulty in becoming pregnant
WHY DOES ENDOMETRIOSIS CAUSE PAIN & HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Every month, hormones cause the lining of the uterus to build up with tissue and blood vessels. If pregnancy does not occur, there uterus sheds this tissue and blood through the vagina as the menstrual period.
Patches of endometriosis also respond to the hormones that control a woman's monthly cycle, building up and breaking down just like the lining of the uterus. However, this internal bleeding has no way of leaving the body and as a consequence the trapped blood and tiisue can lead to inflammation, abdominal and pelvic pain, infertility, painful periods, and the development of scar tissue (adhesions).
Scar tissue can lead to the formation of adhesions or fibrous bands between pelvic organs which reduce the mobility of organs and cause stretching and pain. This can lead to infertility and bowel obstruction. Adhesions are often present in women with endometriosis.
Adhesions are part of the normal wound-healing process and do not always lead to problems, but when they do cause difficulties, these can be widespread and severe.
Endometriosis can develop from within, cover or grow into the ovaries and become cysts which are called endometriomas. These endometriomas can cause pressure and adhesions on the adjacent fallopian tubes as well as interfering with the normal ovulation process of the ovaries; this can result in pain and infertility.
Endometriosis can invade adjacent tissues, including the bowel, bladder, ureters, cervix and vagina. This can lead to symptoms directly and can also cause symptoms indirectly in these organs by causing partial or total obstruction of, for example, the bowel or bladder.
● Endometriosis affects 10% of women.
● 40% of women with infertility have endometriosis.
● Surgical removal of even mild endometriosis has been shown to improve a woman's chances of getting pregnant.
● Women with untreated endometriosis are more likely to suffer a miscarriage.
● Endometriosis is often present for many years before the diagnosis is made.
● When women are cared for by expert surgeons, repeat operations are required less frequently.
● Endometriosis is cured by pregnancy.
● All women with endometriosis have pain.
● Laparoscopic surgery is required every six months 'just in case' the condition has recurred.
● Ovaries containing endometriosis should always be removed.
● Drug treatment for endometriosis cures endometriosis.
● A hysterectomy is the best treatment for endometriosis.
COMMON ENDOMETRIOSIS SYMPTOMS
Chronic lower back & abdominal Pain ●
Pelvic Pain between periods ●
Nerve Pain ●
Chronic Fatigue ●
● Painful Periods
● Pain with Intercourse
● Increased Pain during bowel movement
● Increased Pain during urination and increased urinary frequency
● Excessive Bleeding
● Spotting & Bleeding between cycles
● Painful Digestion