Many women who have endometriosis feel intense abdominal pain, particularly during their menstrual periods. We know learning that you may have endometriosis can be difficult. The good news is that the condition is very treatable.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when a tissue called endometrium develops outside the uterus. This tissue can grow in the fallopian tubes, ovaries and the pelvic lining. The endometrial cells outside of the uterus respond to the normal monthly hormonal changes. This results in pain and other problems.
Endometriosis can sometimes cause painful ovarian cysts (sac-like structures that contain liquid). The condition can also create scar tissue in and around the reproductive organs. In some cases, endometriosis can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant. This condition is fairly common, and more common in women in their 30s and 40s. Baptist Health has doctors who treat endometriosis and offers a number of treatment options that can greatly minimize the pain and side effects of endometriosis.
What Are the Risk Factors for Endometriosis?
This condition is most common among women who are in their 30s and 40s. However, it can affect women any time after they begin having a menstrual period. Other factors that may increase your chances of developing endometriosis include:
Reproductive-cycle related factors
- Early onset of menstruation (monthly period)
- Short periods (less than 28 days apart)
- Long periods (lasting more than seven days)
- Never giving birth
- Other uterine-related medical conditions, particularly if they block menstrual blood flow
- Later-than-average onset of menopause
- Low body mass index (BMI)
- Exposure to higher-than-average levels of estrogen throughout life, or currently having high levels of estrogen in your body
- Family history of endometriosis
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
The most common sign of endometriosis is intense pain in your abdomen and pelvis, particularly right before and after your monthly period. In addition, you might experience:
- Extremely painful menstrual cramps that get worse over time, along with lower back pain
- Pain during and after sex; many women describe it as “deep pain”
- Pain when you urinate or pass a bowel movement, particularly during your period
- Spotting between periods, or having exceptionally heavy periods
- Additional symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea and bloating, particularly during your period
Endometriosis: Related Conditions
- Infertility: As many as 40 percent of women who have had trouble getting pregnant have endometriosis, according to the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Managing your endometriosis can be an important step toward getting pregnant.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome/ovarian cysts: Endometriosis can sometimes be confused with this condition. Some women may have both endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome/ovarian cysts.
- Ovarian cancer: Very few women develop this type of cancer to begin with. However, women who have endometriosis are slightly more likely than the general population to develop ovarian cancer. Women who have had endometriosis can also develop a rare type of cancer called endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma.
Your Baptist Health provider will ask you to describe your pain and other symptoms. Your doctor will typically do a pelvic exam to feel for any abnormalities. In addition, your provider may recommend these tests:
- Pelvic ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your pelvic area that your doctor can view on a screen. You may undergo two types of pelvic ultrasounds:
- Transabdominal ultrasound: A technician takes images of your internal organs by pressing a tool called a transducer against the outside of your abdomen.
- Transvaginal ultrasound: A technician captures images of your reproductive organs by inserting the transducer into your vagina.
- Laparoscopy: If your doctor needs a closer look than an ultrasound provides, you may undergo a laparoscopy. During this procedure, a surgeon inserts a very thin tube (laparoscope) and surgical instruments through two tiny cuts in your abdomen. The laparoscope’s camera can get extremely close views of your fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries and other organs. Your surgeon can also collect tissue samples for testing and remove scar tissue during a laparoscopy.
Endometriosis Treatment Options
Whenever possible, your provider will treat your endometriosis pain and symptoms with as little medical intervention as possible. If over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t effective for your pain, other endometriosis treatment options include:
- Hormone therapy: Supplemental hormones can help smooth out your hormone levels and reduce endometrial tissue growth. Your doctor may prescribe hormone treatments including birth control pills, patches and rings.
- Minimally invasive surgery: During an outpatient laparoscopy, a surgeon can remove extra endometrial tissue.
- Hysterectomy: This procedure involves surgically removing your uterus and cervix (total hysterectomy), or possibly your ovaries, fallopian tubes and other tissue. It’s typically a last-resort treatment for endometriosis. A number of our Baptist Health locations perform laparoscopic hysterectomies. Because this procedure is minimally invasive, you’ll typically leave the hospital faster and experience less pain than you might with a full abdominal hysterectomy.
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