What You Should Know About Endometriosis


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National Endometriosis Awareness Month is observed annually in March to recognize the effects of endometriosis: a chronic condition that affects millions around the world. The month-long observance aims to educate the public and healthcare providers about the signs and symptoms, promote early diagnosis and effective management of the condition, and advocate for better research, treatment, and care for people with endometriosis.

During the month of March, organizations and individuals around the world host events, fundraisers, and social media campaigns to bring consciousness of the condition to the global conversation. They share stories of those affected, encourage people to seek medical help if they suspect they have the condition, and raise funds for research and support programs for people with endometriosis.

In addition to National Endometriosis Awareness Month, there are other global initiatives and events that aim to support people with endometriosis, such as Endometriosis Awareness Week (observed annually in the first week of March). But the advocation for education should not stop when April begins: for those who suffer, this is often a life-long affliction.

By increasing understanding, we can help ensure that people with endometriosis receive the care and support they need to manage their symptoms, preserve their fertility, and live healthy, fulfilling lives.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects the reproductive system. It occurs when the tissue lining the uterus (endometrium) grows outside of the uterus. This can happen on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and pelvic tissue. The tissue acts as the normal lining of the uterus, thickening and breaking down during the menstrual cycle. Unlike the lining of the uterus, endometrial tissue has no way of leaving the body. This leads to inflammation, scarring, and chronic pain.

Endometriosis is an idiopathic condition, meaning there is no known cause. It is, however, believed to be influenced by hormonal imbalances, genetics, and environmental factors. Still, there is no specific way to prevent it from developing. Symptoms include painful periods, pain during intercourse, infertility, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, bloating, and bladder problems. With an ever-expanding list of symptoms, there is no shortage of unpleasant problems that this condition can cause.

Severe endometriosis can distort pelvic anatomy, making it difficult for the fallopian tubes to pick up eggs. The connection between milder endometriosis and infertility is less clear. Some experts believe that substances produced by endometriosis may be toxic to eggs, sperm, and/or embryos.

There is currently no cure. Treatment options include pain-alleviating medication, hormone therapy, and surgery to remove the out-of-place endometrial tissue. Lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, stress reduction activities (like meditation or walking), and a healthy diet may also manage symptoms.

It is imperative to see a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can help keep the condition under control while also reducing the risk of critical complications.

Who does endometriosis affect?

Endometriosis primarily affects individuals with female reproductive organs. The condition occurs when tissue grows outside of the uterus, typically in the pelvic area. This tissue can cause inflammation, scarring, and pain. It can interfere with the normal function of the reproductive system, leading to an increased chance of infertility.

Endometriosis affects an estimated 10% of people who menstruate. This includes individuals who identify as female and non-binary individuals with a uterus. While most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, it can occur at any age.

Though chiefly affecting individuals with female reproductive organs, it can also have an impact on their partners, families, and communities. Promoting a better support system for people with the condition can boost outcomes and inclusivity in reproductive health.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms can vary from person to person, while some people may experience no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms include:

Painful periods: These painful menstrual cramps may be worse than typical period pain.

Chronic pelvic pain: Chronic pelvic pain outside of the menstrual cycle can be severe and debilitating.

Pain during intercourse: Pain during or after sex, which may be deep, sharp, or stabbing can often occur sporadically.

Infertility: Endometriosis can affect fertility by blocking the fallopian tubes or causing inflammation in the pelvis.

Gastrointestinal issues: Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, or nausea, can arise particularly during normal periods.

Fatigue: Chronic pain and other symptoms can cause fatigue and exhaustion.

Other, less common symptoms may include painful urination, heavy bleeding during periods, and bloating.

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions; having them does not necessarily mean endometriosis. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to a healthcare provider who can help determine whether you could be at higher risk, and appropriately provide the necessary treatment.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms, the extent of the disease, and the individual’s desire for future fertility. Here are some common treatment options:

Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help temporarily alleviate the associated pain.

Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy such as birth control pills, patches, or vaginal rings, may help to reduce pain and slow down the growth of endometrial tissue. Other hormone therapy options include progestin therapy, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists, and aromatase inhibitors.

Surgery: Surgery may be recommended if the affliction is severe or causes infertility. The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the endometrial tissue as possible. A laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgery, is used to remove the tissue.

Assisted reproductive technologies (ART): If endometriosis is causing infertility, assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) may be recommended if individuals decide to move forward with family building.

Complementary and alternative therapies: Complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, and dietary changes can sometimes help alleviate symptoms.

Why talk about it?

There are many health, social, and economic benefits to addressing endometriosis. Key benefits include:

Improved health outcomes: Talking about the issue can enhance the quality of life by harboring community, while simultaneously reducing symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Being open can enable those living with the condition to live healthy, fulfilling lives despite their ailment.

Understanding: One of the key priorities is education and progression in understanding the condition amongst the general public and healthcare providers. This can help ensure that people with the disease receive appropriate care and support. Increased funding can help spur research and innovation in diagnosis, treatment, and care. This can lead to better outcomes and advance the field of reproductive health more broadly.

Treatment options: There is a need for more personalized treatment options, including both medical and surgical interventions. Research identifies new targets for therapy and evaluates the safety and efficacy of new treatments.

Impact on fertility: Endometriosis can have a significant impact on fertility, and there is a need for more research on how to manage the condition in a way that preserves fertility. This includes developing better fertility-sparing surgical techniques and evaluating the safety and effectiveness of assisted reproductive technologies. Early diagnosis is crucial for the fruitful management of endometriosis. There is a need for better diagnostic tools and protocols, and for healthcare providers to be trained to recognize and diagnose the condition early.

Equity and inclusivity: There is a need to promote equity and inclusivity in research, care, and support. This includes addressing disparities in diagnosis and treatment and ensuring that people from diverse backgrounds have access to high-quality care. People with endometriosis may face stigma, isolation, and social exclusion due to their condition. Talking about it promotes a more supportive and inclusive society that can help people feel more connected and valued.

Research investment: Finally, there is a need for increased investment in research, including in both the basic science and clinical research fields. This can help advance our understanding of the condition and lead to new treatments and cures.

Addressing these priorities can support healthier outcomes for people with endometriosis and reduce the burden of this condition on individuals and their families. Those with -endometriosis don’t have the benefit of having this chronic condition just one week or month out of the year, so our support for them shouldn’t stop at the end of March.

For more information, contact us at 937-458-5084.

Sources: ASRM, WHO, Mayo Clinic, and CDC.

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