Globally, March is regarded as Endometriosis Awareness Month. The aim is to increase awareness and highlight the symptoms of the debilitating condition so that more women that are affected can receive diagnosis and treatment earlier. Endometriosis is a common disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrium) grows outside of the uterus. This tissue builds up and forms adhesions (bands of scar-like tissue) that can attach to the bladder, bowel, vagina, and other places within the reproductive tract.
These adhesions build up with every menstrual cycle and, unlike the lining that is shed during a woman’s menstrual period, the tissue that builds up outside the uterus remains. They also bleed, similarly to the regular uterine lining, in response to hormones. We have discussed endometriosis in the past and you should recall that it can manifest in a variety of ways. You’ll also most likely remember that the most common symptom is the pain. This pain can manifest in so many ways. It includes pain before and/or after menstruation, severe menstrual cramps, painful intercourse, painful orgasms, heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding, painful bowel movements, infertility, lower back pain, etc.
However, some women with endometriosis don’t have any symptoms and may not know they have endometriosis until a problem, such as infertility, is discovered. You also need to know that the extent or severity of your endometriosis has little correlation to the amount of pain you might experience. It is a disease with a variety of symptoms. While some women with endometriosis have fertility issues, others do get pregnant and deliver healthy babies. Some women may need fertility treatments to become pregnant such as laparoscopic excision and breakdown of adhesions.
Whether or not you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, you need to appreciate that the location of the lesions in the uterus has a great deal to do with the symptoms; each woman’s symptoms will vary. Endometriosis can cause severe pain, along with other symptoms such as heavy or irregular bleeding, cramping, other gastrointestinal problems, including constipation, and painful intercourse. It is not unusual that endometriosis can start as early as your first period, and it can last beyond menopause, particularly if you have a severe case with a lot of scar tissue.
It affects one in 10 women, which is more than 176 million women worldwide, yet it remains one of the most poorly understood medical conditions. It can impact your quality of life, interfere with your relationships, and also affect your fertility due to the painful symptoms. It is the biggest cause of female infertility. Unfortunately, the average diagnosis can take a number of years as it can be commonly overlooked by physicians. It is quite possible to go for years before an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis is confirmed, perhaps due to the fact that women aren’t talking about their symptoms, which they consider private or doctors are not accurately assessing the condition.
One of the factors that can prevent an accurate diagnosis is when you or your doctor assume or believe that the symptoms are normal. You might live with your symptoms for years, not even realising that what you are experiencing is out of the ordinary. Or, it’s common for endometriosis to run in families, so women might hear female family members talking about their experiences with their period or pelvic pain and absorb the message that those symptoms are normal. However, any pain or symptom that is affecting your quality of life, or is occurring so frequently that it leads to you missing work, school, or can’t do normal chores, is not normal and needs to be addressed. In some cases, endometriosis is silent which makes it even more important to do a thorough assessment and evaluation of pelvic health and how it affects the overall quality of life.
When endometriosis affects the reproductive organs, fertility can be compromised. Even minimal or mild endometriosis can also affect fertility and may increase the risk of recurrent miscarriage, intrauterine growth retardation, and pre-eclampsia. However, not every woman is affected in these ways. And even among those who are, many are still able to conceive. Fact is that the majority of women with endometriosis can get pregnant if they desire.
As a woman, you are encouraged to talk freely about any pain that you are experiencing in the pelvic region, especially as it occurs with sexual relations. Your doctor should be asking you questions about your cycle, including how it affects your life, any symptoms, like pain, that you may be experiencing, and what pain you have before, during, or after your cycle. If you are experiencing pain of unknown origin, it’s important that you tell a physician. If sex with your partner is painful, talk about it with someone that can help. You should not be embarrassed to have conversation about pelvic health with your healthcare provider. It’s perfectly normal to explain that you are experiencing cramps that feel more severe than normal. If the pain is affecting your quality of life, it’s serious. And it could be endometriosis.
One of the most important things you can do when approaching a conversation about an endometriosis diagnosis or while having an ongoing discussion about the condition is to keep track of the signs and symptoms you are experiencing. Symptoms can vary widely among women and, in some cases; women may not have any symptoms at all. So, it’s especially important to be thorough in your own self-examination. Recognising your own symptoms helps you to recognise the signs and symptoms of the condition and take charge of your own health. It can help you bring up the conversation with your physician to help you both explore treatment options together. Do not be afraid to seek a second opinion if your physician is not receptive to talking about your pelvic health and symptoms or exploring the possibility of an endometriosis diagnosis.
It is important to know your own pain and be knowledgeable about how it affects your life. Consult the experts. Endometriosis can be treated with early intervention, which is why it’s best that your symptoms are assessed early. These symptoms can appear anytime during your reproductive and post-reproductive years. Simple measures such as lifestyle modifications, diet changes, are usually not effective in treating endometriosis, which is why early intervention is key.