More than five million American women suffer from endometriosis, which can cause severe pain and discomfort and sometimes require surgery.
In a woman with endometriosis, the cells inside the lining of the uterus move and implant in other areas of the body. Normally when a woman menstruates, her body releases hormones that make the cells of the uterine lining swell and shed. But in a woman with endometriosis, the cells that have wrongly implanted stay where they are and grow, creating lesions. This can lead to excruciating pain that can greatly detract from a woman’s quality of life (including her ability to enjoy sex).
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary from woman to woman. Endometriosis can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, severe cramping, pain during intercourse or after intercourse, pain in the lower abdomen, pelvic pain, pain in the lower back, and pain during bowel movements. However, some women with endometriosis do not experience these symptoms, while others do not realize that these symptoms are more than just regular menstrual pain. The only way to know for sure if a woman has endometriosis is through a pelvic exam and/or a transvaginal ultrasound. In some cases, a pelvic laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgery that requires just a small incision, is performed.
There are certain risk factors that make a woman more likely to develop endometriosis. Women who have never had children are more likely to develop endometriosis, as are women who have frequent periods or began their periods at a young age.
There are several treatments for endometriosis. Your option for treatment will depend on how severe your condition is and your age and fertility goals. Women who don’t want to have children or moms who have decided not to have any more children might opt for a hysterectomy. Even if you don’t want to have children at all (or get pregnant again), the decision to undergo a hysterectomy is a very serious one. Talk to your doctor to find out if this is the best option for you and discuss all the ramifications.
There are several other less invasive ways to treat endometriosis, particularly if your condition is not debilitating. In these cases, medications such as birth control pills and ibuprofen can be used to decrease symptoms. Some intrauterine devices (IUDs), namely Mirena, have also been shown to be useful in treating endometriosis. The small amount of progestin that Mirena releases into the uterus may help to decrease the symptoms and pain associated with the condition.
Other treatments for endometriosis include hormone medications, progesterone pills or shots, and surgery. Some women have also found success with alternative treatments. Exercise and sticking with a healthy diet made up of whole natural foods can help you feel your best, as well as taking steps to decrease stress and doing relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.
If you suspect you might have endometriosis, talk to your doctor to learn more.