Endometriosis is a disorder in which the endometrial tissue, or the inner lining of a woman’s uterus, grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis most commonly occurs in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and lining of the pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond the pelvic area and reach the diaphragm or the lungs. The endometrial tissue is the same specialized cell that thickens during the menstrual cycle and sheds (bleeds), causing a woman to have her menstrual period. When this process occurs outside the uterus, the blood has nowhere to go, causing discomfort in the pelvic region and sometimes cysts or adhesions.
In observance of National Endometriosis Awareness Month, let us further educate ourselves about the disease that has changed approximately 176 million lives around the world.
Fact #1: Endometriosis is painful
Pelvic pain and cramping is a common symptom of endometriosis. Discomfort might begin before a woman’s period and last for several days. The pain is often intense and sharp, which can persist or worsen even with medication. Some women describe the sensation as similar to their insides are being pulled down, and they have a throbbing feeling that can be severe.
Fact #2: 1 out of 10 women suffer from endometriosis
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that endometriosis affects about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the U.S., with many remaining undiagnosed. The disorder usually arises between the ages of 15 to 49. However, endometriosis can develop in girls as young as eight years old — the age in which a few young women start their period.
Fact #3: Endometriosis prevents some women from having children
Fertility issues are profoundly associated with endometriosis, and it is thus the sixth fundamental symptom of the disorder. The inability to conceive a child often characterizes infertility. In endometriosis, cases of infertility can also take the form of a woman being unable to carry a pregnancy to full term, often experiencing miscarriages.
It is important to understand that endometriosis itself does not cause infertility directly. Instead, patients who suffer from the disorder have a significantly lower chance of getting pregnant — suggesting gestation is not impossible. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that patients with endometriosis have infertility in about 30 to 50 percent of cases.
While the exact etiology or cause of endometriosis is unknown, scientific facts support the connection between endometriosis and infertility:
- Endometriosis physically distorts a female’s pelvic anatomy. The disorder sometimes produces scarring and adhesions that cause the reproductive organs, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes, to suffer from blockage. As a result, the sperm and egg are prevented from coming into contact with each other.
- Molecules (cytokines) generated by the inflammation of endometriosis. Cytokines have a distinctive effect of paralyzing the sperm and egg cells, which inhibits the process of fertilization.
The ovaries may also fail to ovulate, causing an egg cell to remain trapped inside the ovaries. Such obstacles in a woman’s reproductive system can thwart gestation or cause complicated and life-threatening pregnancies, including miscarriages.
Fact #4: Endometriosis runs in families
If someone in your biological family has endometriosis, your risk for developing the same disorder is 7 to 10 times higher than those who do not have a family history of the condition.
Endometriosis found in immediate family members, such as your mother, sister, or grandmother puts you at the highest risk for developing the enervating disorder. If you have distant relatives, like aunts or cousins who have it, this also increases your chances of receiving a medical diagnosis. Endometriosis has the potential to be passed down both maternally (mother’s side) and paternally (father’s side).
Fact #5: There is a link between endometriosis and child abuse
A 2018 study comprising more than 60,000 premenopausal women appears to confirm a link between endometriosis and child abuse. Researchers found that among the 60,595 women with endometriosis who participated in the survey, 31 percent reported that they had undergone some form of physical abuse as children. The same study disclosed that another 12 percent had been sexually violated, while 21 percent stated experiencing both types of abuse.
“The numbers themselves are pretty staggering even though they are in line with reports of abuse in other studies,” said Holly Harris, ScD, an ovarian cancer and endometriosis researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “I think the main thing we’re hoping for is that this brings awareness that abuse and endometriosis are prevalent. That number was far too high.”
Fact #6: Cancer is a complication of endometriosis
Even though the overall lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is low, it does occur at higher rates in women with endometriosis. Another type of cancer — the rare endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma — can emerge later on in women who have endometriosis. Call New Hope Unlimited today at 480-757-6573 for quick solutions and treatment recommendations for adenocarcinoma.
Fact #7: Reducing the risk may be possible
Until we have a clear understanding of what leads to endometriosis, it is difficult to say how to prevent it. In hindsight, you can presumably reduce your risk by lessening the amount of estrogen in your body. One of the primary functions of estrogen is to thicken the endometrium or uterus lining. If your estrogen level is always high, your endometrium will be thicker and cause heavy bleeding. If you have heavy menstrual flows, you are at risk for endometriosis.
Being healthy helps balance your hormones. To keep hormones such as estrogen in check or at lower levels, try these strategies:
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily
- Eat whole foods and less processed foods
- Consume less caffeine and alcohol
- Talk to your doctor about birth control medication that contains less estrogen
Knowing the risk factors for endometriosis, as well as understanding the facts mentioned in this article, can help you take control of your health. Not only does this information equip you with risk reduction strategies and a sense of awareness, but it can also help your physician arrive at an early and more accurate diagnosis.