By Karen B. Simon, M.D.
Endometriosis is a condition many women have during their childbearing years. It’s a condition characterized by the tissue that typically lines the uterus, called the endometrium, growing outside of the uterus. Endometriosis commonly involves the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, the outer wall of the uterus, the lining of the pelvis, or even other organs such as the intestines.
Although it typically isn’t a dangerous condition, endometriosis can cause symptoms and other problems. In rare cases, it can spread to areas beyond the pelvic area.
Here’s what you need to know about the condition.
It Can Be Painful
One of the most common symptoms of endometriosis is pain, typically in the abdomen, lower back and pelvic areas. Some women with this condition don’t experience any pain while others experience severe pain. Surprisingly, the amount of pain and the amount of endometriosis don’t always correlate.
Displaced Endometrial Tissue Acts Normally
Although endometrial tissue is growing outside of the uterus, it still thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. But since the displaced tissue has no way to exit the body, it becomes trapped.
It Can Cause Cysts and Scar Tissue
When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. These need to be monitored and sometimes removed, especially if pregnancy is planned soon. Endometriosis can make pelvic organs stick together, causing scar tissue and disruption of the normal anatomy.
One Complication is Infertility
The biggest complication associated with endometriosis is impaired fertility – about one-third to one-half of women with the condition have difficulty getting pregnant.
That’s because endometriosis may alter the normal anatomy of the pelvis or obstruct the Fallopian tube, preventing an egg and sperm from uniting. However, many women with endometriosis can still conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy.
Treatment Ranges from Medicine to Surgery
In order to control the pain, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or birth control hormones if you aren’t planning to get pregnant in the near future.
Supplemental hormones sometimes reduce or eliminate endometriosis pain by quieting down the endometriosis tissue within the pelvis. Hormones may slow down the growth of endometriosis and prevent new implants from forming. Some women use an Intrauterine Device (IUD) with hormones to help with endometriosis pain.
For women who have endometriosis and are trying to get pregnant, surgery can remove endometriosis while preserving the uterus and ovaries, which can increase the chances of getting pregnant. This conservative surgery may also reduce severe pain related to the condition. Some women with endometriosis see a fertility specialist for specialized surgery or assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization.
About the Author
Dr. Simon specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN). She attempts to help patients become educated about their health and treatment options before they make decisions together.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Simon, please call 610-872-7660.