Endometriosis, is a women’s health issue that has been getting a lot of press recently from celebrities speaking openly about their struggles with the disease. Celebrities from Padma Lakshmi and Tia Mowry to Lena Dunham have all shared their experiences. Even so, there remains a lot of myths and misconceptions circling around endometriosis – and its connection to fertility. Given our dedication to women’s health we wanted to take a minute to share the 411 with you.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus – endometrium tissue – spreads, and grows outside of the uterus where it shouldn’t be. Most commonly, this tissue spreads to nearby areas like the ovaries, bowel, or pelvis. Endometrial tissue may also spread to other areas of the body, but this is very rare.
During each menstrual cycle, this tissue continues to act as it would if it was in the uterus (where it should be)– it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds. However, since this tissue lies outside the uterus, it has no exit, so it becomes trapped. This can irritate the surrounding tissue causing scarring and pain, sometimes very severe.
How common is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is the most common gynecological disorder, affecting between 2 and 10 percent of women in the US. It can be a particularly debilitating condition for some women that causes them to miss work and other important life events, while others may experience little to no symptoms.
What are the causes and symptoms?
The exact causes of endometriosis are still unknown. However, the most widely accepted theory suggests that during a women’s period, endometrial tissue breaks up and rather than exiting as it should, it reverses and travels backward, up through the fallopian tubes attaching itself to other areas and growing there.
Some women may experience no symptoms at all, but many women do. The most common symptoms are; pain that feels like intense menstrual cramping, pain during sex, abnormal or heavy periods, fatigue, infertility, and gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or nausea.
Can endometriosis affect fertility?
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that 24 to 50 percent of women who experience infertility have endometriosis. As such, it is considered one of the top 3 causes of female infertility. In many cases, infertility may be only temporary as laparoscopic surgery can be done to remove any cysts or scar tissue, thus restoring fertility. These cysts and/or scar tissue are thought to prevent the ovary from releasing an egg, or impair the implantation of a fertilized egg. Permanent infertility due to endometriosis affects only a very small percentage of women, and most women go on to have a child if they choose.
How is endometriosis treated?
Treatment for endometriosis varies on a patient to patient bases. When determining a treatment plan your physician will take into consideration your symptoms, overall health, disease severity, and desire for pregnancy in the future. For mild cases, physicians may suggest “watchful waiting” or OTC pain medications like ibuprofen. In some cases, birth control pills or hormone therapy may be used to reduce symptom severity. Surgical treatments may also be used, laparoscopy for example, a minor surgical procedure also used to help confirm an endometriosis diagnosis.
Unfortunately, since little is understood about the causes of endometriosis, and women can experience very different symptoms, many misconceptions have come up surrounding this disease. For many years, doctors choked up endometriosis to women just being hysterical or mentally ill – which is completely untrue as we now know today. This left women unable to finish their education, maintain a career, or have a stable relationship. Even though much more is known today, women still struggle in receiving a timely diagnosis.
Endometriosis is a real disease, with real symptoms, and it’s important to know what to look for. Firstly, severe period pain that knocks you down and prevents you from doing daily activities, is not normal, and it’s not “all in your head” as previously thought by physicians. If pain is interfering with your life, see a gynecologist.
Second, endometriosis doesn’t discriminate by age. Even teenagers and young women may suffer from the disease. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become more severe by age. Thirdly, endometriosis does not equal infertility. Many women with endometriosis go on to have children if they choose to. Treatment can help with this, and even without treatment, many women with endometriosis will go on to conceive naturally.
As always, we hope this article has given you some helpful information. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or to learn more.
We will do our best to keep you updated on any advancement in the world of reproductive health and together we can help women take charge of their fertility.