12 July 2007

What Is Endometriosis?

From the Endometriosis Research Center:

Over 5.5 million women in the United States alone suffer from a painful, chronic gynecological disease known as endometriosis. Affecting more women than breast cancer, endometriosis is a leading cause of female infertility and hysterectomy. The disease can have a debilitating impact on a woman's life and her relationships; in some cases rendering her unable to work, care for herself or her family, or go about her normal routine. Studies have even shown an elevated risk of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases in endometriosis patients. Currently, there is no definitive cure for endometriosis.

The Missed Disease

The average delay in diagnosis of the disease is a staggering 9 years. The disease is often confused for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, bladder infections, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a multitude of other conditions. It is important for patients and physicians to work closely together to detect, treat and effectively manage endometriosis at the onset of symptoms.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease in which the endometrium (the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus which builds up and is shed each month during menstruation) is found outside the uterus, in other areas of the body. These implants still respond to hormonal commands each month, and break down and bleed. However, unlike the lining of the uterus, the tissue has no way of leaving the body. The result is internal bleeding, degeneration of blood and tissue shed from the growths, inflammation of the surrounding areas, and formation of scar tissue. Endometriosis lesions can present themselves in almost any color, shape, size and location. The lesions can be virtually any color including black, red, white, clear and more, and they can be microscopic in size. Endometriosis implants can be spread throughout the entire pelvis including the reproductive organs, bowels, bladder, diaphragm and other areas in the body, and may not be visible without proper magnifying equipment and thorough examination. While uncommon, endometriosis has even been found lodged in the skin and the brain.

Symptoms of Endometriosis

Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • heavy bleeding and pain before, during or after menstruation (pain is not normal!)
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • pain with intercourse
  • ectopic pregnancies
  • miscarriages
  • infertility
  • backache
  • bladder pain
  • premenstrual spotting

How is it Diagnosed?

Endometriosis may be suspected based on your symptoms. However, the disease can only be definitively diagnosed via surgery; either a "keyhole surgery" known as laparoscopy ("lap") or the more invasive laparotomy.

How is it Treated?

Studies have shown the most effective treatment for the disease is thorough eradication of all endometriosis. Unfortunately, if all the disease is not removed, there is an extremely high rate of recurrence.

Who Gets Endometriosis?

The outdated, misinformed theory that "white career women who delay childbearing" are the prime candidates for endometriosis could not be further from the truth. The disease knows no racial or socioeconomic barriers. It can affect any woman of reproductive age, from as early as a girl's first menstrual period. Endometriosis is also commonly found in women who have undergone hysterectomies and post-menopausal women [studies have shown that endometriosis implants produce their own estrogen and thrive even if all other hormone-producing organs are removed or non-functional] .

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