The month of March was dedicated to raising some much-needed awareness about one of the most prevalent diseases that affects women of all ages: endometriosis. Although a common condition, some cases remain undiagnosed for years on end! As with most ailments, the sooner you know, the better. Staying well-informed about symptoms and possible treatments is essential in keeping you as healthy as you can be.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis, or “endo”, is a condition where tissue that is similar to the uterine lining (the endometrium) is abnormally found outside the uterus, causing a chronic inflammatory response that can result in scar tissue. It can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, tissues that hold the uterus in place, outside the uterus. It can also be found in the vagina, cervix, vulva, bladder or rectum. RARELY does it affect other parts of the body, like the lungs, skin or brain.
Endometriosis does not discriminate when it comes to age. Usually women get it in their reproductive years, but the onset of symptoms can occur as early as when a girl gets her first period. According to The Office on Women’s Health, it affects 1 out of 10 women in the United States, and about 176 million women worldwide.
Why is it important?
For many reasons. Although “endo” growths are benign (not cancerous), they can still cause a range of problems. Not only are they found where they don’t belong but the growths actually bleed just as our uterus does during menstruation. The result? Pain and swelling because the tissue continues to grow in an area it cannot easily get out of. In addition, endo can block your fallopian tubes because of the growths, causing cysts to form. The resulting scar tissue can cause pelvic pain and make it hard to get pregnant. That being said, endometriosis is another cause of infertility.
What are the symptoms?
- Painful periods
- Pain during or after intercourse
- Heavier bleeding
- Chronic pelvic pain (can range from mild to extreme)
- Constant Fatigue
- An overall impact on mental, physical, and social life
What can I do?
Sadly, there is no way to prevent endometriosis, but you can reduce the possibility of it developing. The most common way to do so is by lowering the levels of our “lady hormone,” estrogen. This can be done with:
- Birth control
- Consistent exercising (lowering your body fat actually decreases the amount of estrogen that circulates throughout your body).
- Wine is one of life’s many pleasures, but it comes at a price. Avoid large amounts of alcohol as this raises estrogen levels.
- Avoid large amounts of caffeine, as this has the same effect as alcohol.
Lastly, make sure you visit your gynecologist–or primary physician–if you experience ANY of the symptoms described above. More than likely, you will undergo a series of tests: classic pelvic exam, imaging (ultrasound), MRI, and laparoscopy (surgery). You might be prescribed medicine such as hormonal birth control or hormones that help block your menstruation, AKA block the pain. Make sure to FOLLOW THROUGH and keep taking the medicine for as long as it’s needed. As always, if you think something is wrong, you should listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Remember, endometriosis is NOT rare, and a quicker diagnosis can make all the difference!