“Listen to your body.” How often have you heard that phrase? It’s true that intuition can be a valuable tool in caring for our bodies, but discerning the meaning of symptoms in this way can be hit-or-miss at times. At MOGA, we recognize the importance of listening to what your body is telling you! We also value the relationships between women and their trusted healthcare providers.
If you’ve been experiencing painful periods, unexplained mid-cycle spotting, or other unusual symptoms, you may be struggling to identify what’s happening to you. The warning signs your body is sending to you could indicate endometriosis, so let’s take a closer look at what that means and how our expert team can help you find relief!
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects women in the reproductive years. It’s estimated that about 10% of women aged 11-44 suffer from endometriosis, defined by endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus. Although this tissue normally lines the womb, it can be found in the lower pelvis or on the ovaries and fallopian tubes in women with this disorder.
This is a problem because even though it is outside the uterus, the tissue acts the same way endometrial tissue does—it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Unlike the actual endometrium, there is no way for this tissue to exit the body. It becomes trapped, irritating the surrounding tissues and eventually causing scar tissue and adhesions to form.
These abnormal bands of fibrous tissue can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other, which can lead to painful periods, gastrointestinal issues, and problems with fertility. Other signs and symptoms can include:
- heavy menstrual periods or bleeding between periods
- pain during or after intercourse
- painful bowel movements or urination
- bloating or nausea
These symptoms are normally at their worst during your menstrual period. They may be mild or severe, but neither is a reliable indicator of the extent of the endometriosis. Severe cases may have very little discomfort, while milder cases might present with severe pain. Some women are entirely asymptomatic.
What causes endometriosis?
While there are several theories about the potential causes of endometriosis, none of them has been established with any real certainty. These include:
- Problems with the flow of a woman’s menstrual period—Retrograde menstrual flow is the most likely cause of endometriosis. This occurs when menstrual blood flows through the fallopian tubes into other areas of the body, such as the abdomen or pelvis.
- Genetic factors—Endometriosis runs in families and may be inherited genetically.
- Dysfunctional immune system—Immune system disorders and certain cancers are more common in women with endometriosis. When the immune system is faulty, it may fail to find and destroy any endometrial tissue that happens to be growing outside of the uterus.
- Hormones—Researchers have been investigating if endometriosis could be linked to a problem with the body’s hormone system, as the hormone estrogen appears to promote endometriosis.
- Surgery—Any type of abdominal surgery, including a Cesarean or hysterectomy, can pick up and move endometrial tissue by mistake.
We tend to see endometriosis most often in women who have a long duration of uninterrupted menstrual cycles, including those who have never been pregnant, those who began their period at a young age, and those who experience menopause at a later age. It’s seen less frequently in women who have had interruptions in their menstrual cycle, such as multiple pregnancies and extended periods of breastfeeding.
How is endometriosis treated?
Although there is no cure, there are both medical and surgical options for the treatment of endometriosis. Medical treatment can relieve some of the pain associated with endometriosis but will not eliminate the disease. If you are not trying to conceive, the first step in the treatment process is generally hormonal birth control. This works best for women who do not have severe pain or symptoms and will only be effective for as long as it is taken. Examples include:
- Extended-cycle or continuous cycle birth control—With the former, you will only have a few periods a year, and you will not have any at all with the latter. This type of birth control comes in pill or shot form. It can help lessen or eliminate bleeding and pain associated with menstrual cycles.
- Intrauterine device (IUD.)—The hormonal IUD will protect you against pregnancy for up to 7 years, but it may not help reduce the pain and bleeding associated with endometriosis.
If you are trying to conceive, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist may be the best treatment option. This causes a temporary menopause by halting the production of the hormones responsible for ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. Once you stop taking this medication, your menstrual cycle will return, and you may have a better chance of becoming pregnant.
Surgery will generally only be recommended for women who have severe symptoms, those who have seen no improvement with hormones, and women experiencing infertility that is linked to their endometriosis. A surgeon will be able to locate any affected areas and may be able to remove the scar tissue. As long as you are not trying to conceive, hormone treatment is likely to resume following the surgical procedure.
Other treatments that can be taken alone or in conjunction with any of those listed above include over-the-counter pain medication and alternative medicine therapies. Some women have reported relief from their endometriosis symptoms after acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbs, and supplements.
Listen to your body with help from our MOGA doctors
Menstrual cycles can be uncomfortable, but they shouldn’t cause you extreme pain or other symptoms that negatively affect your quality of life. If you’ve been struggling with any of the symptoms we’ve outlined above, your body could be trying to tell you something. Our expert team has helped hundreds of women manage the disruptive side effects of endometriosis, and we’d love to help you, too! You can make an appointment with us by calling our office or schedule one online through our website.