Intuition can be a valuable tool when it comes to healthcare. But if you’ve ever been urged by a doctor or medical professional to listen to your body, you may not be sure what that even means. Trying to decipher potential symptoms on nothing more than a hunch can be confusing!
Here at Women’s Health Specialists, we know it’s important to listen to what your body is saying, but we also recognize that this can be a hit-or-miss practice. As trusted healthcare providers, we value the relationships we’ve built with our patients over the years. Our goal is to provide the women we treat with exceptional care and up-to-date information through every stage of her life.
Have you been struggling with painful periods? Are you experiencing mid-cycle spotting or other unusual symptoms around your menstrual cycle? You may not be sure exactly what your body is trying to tell you, but these could be the warning signs of endometriosis. Let’s take a closer look at what that means and how Women’s Health Specialists can help you find relief!
The basics of endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that causes the lining of your uterus, known as endometrium, to grow in tissues other than the uterus. This can cause severe cramping, heavy bleeding, and significant pain. That’s because every month, this misplaced tissue continues to thicken and attempts to break down the way it would if it were in your uterus. Since it’s unable to exit the body when your period arrives, the tissue causes inflammation and irritation.
Over time, this can cause scar tissue called adhesions to form. They can also cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other, which may lead to painful periods, gastrointestinal issues, and problems with fertility. Other signs and symptoms of endometriosis can include:
- heavy menstrual periods
- bleeding or spotting between periods
- pain during or after intercourse
- painful bowel movements or urination
- bloating or nausea
Most women with endometriosis find that the symptoms tend to be at their worst during their menstrual cycle. They range in severity from mild to extreme, although neither is a reliable indicator of how serious the condition is. Women with severe cases may experience very little discomfort, while someone with a more moderate case could present with acute pain. Some cases are entirely asymptomatic.
Although it’s estimated that about 10% of women aged 11-44 suffer from endometriosis, many women are not diagnosed until they try to conceive and find getting pregnant difficult.
The possible causes of endometriosis
There are several theories about what causes endometriosis, but no definitive answer has been established. Some of the more popular theories include the following.
Problems with the flow of a woman’s menstrual period
Many experts believe retrograde menstrual flow to be the most likely cause of endometriosis. This occurs when menstrual blood flows through the fallopian tubes into other areas of the body, such as the abdomen or pelvis.
Endometriosis tends to run in families and may be inherited genetically.
Dysfunctional immune system
Certain immune system disorders and cancers are more common in women with endometriosis. When the immune system is not able to function as it should, it may fail to find and destroy any endometrial tissue that happens to be growing outside of the uterus.
There is currently research into whether or not endometriosis could be linked to a problem with the body’s hormone system since estrogen appears to promote the condition.
Any type of abdominal surgery, including a Cesarean or hysterectomy, can pick up and move endometrial tissue inadvertently .
Endometriosis is seen most often in women who have a long duration of uninterrupted menstrual cycles. This includes those who have never been pregnant, those who began their period at a young age, and those who experience menopause at a later age. It’s experienced less frequently by women who have had interruptions to their menstrual cycles, such as multiple pregnancies or extended periods of breastfeeding.
Treatments for endometriosis
While there is no cure for endometriosis at the present, medical and surgical treatment options do exist. Medical treatment can relieve some of the painful symptoms associated with endometriosis but will not eliminate the disease.
If you are not trying to conceive, the first step in the treatment process will generally be hormonal birth control. This option tends to work best for women who do not have severe pain or symptoms and will only be effective for as long as it is taken. Examples include:
Extended-cycle or continuous cycle birth control
The use of extended-cycle birth control means you will only have a few periods each year. With continuous cycle birth control, you’re unlikely to have any at all. They both come in pill or shot form, and may help lessen or eliminate bleeding and pain associated with menstrual cycles.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
A hormonal IUD will help protect you against pregnancy for up to 7 years, but it may not reduce the pain and bleeding associated with endometriosis.
If you are trying to conceive, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist may be the best treatment option. This causes a temporary menopause-like state by halting the production of the hormones responsible for ovulation, menstruation, and the growth of endometriosis. Once you stop taking this medication, your menstrual cycle will return, and you may have a better chance of becoming pregnant.
Surgery can be an option for women who have severe symptoms, those who have seen no improvement with hormones, and women experiencing infertility that is linked to their endometriosis. A surgeon will be able to locate any affected areas and may be able to remove troublesome scar tissue. As long as you are not trying to conceive, hormone treatment can resume following the surgical procedure.
Other treatments that can be taken alone or in conjunction with any of those listed above include over-the-counter pain medication and alternative medicine therapies. Many women have found some relief from their endometriosis symptoms after trying acupuncture, chiropractic care, certain herbs, and supplements.
Learn what your body is trying to tell you with help from Women’s Health Specialists
You don’t have to suffer the painful effects of endometriosis on your own! If you’ve been experiencing extremely painful menstrual cycles or other symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, it may be time to get in touch with our Germantown office. Our team has helped hundreds of women manage the side effects of endometriosis, and we’d love to help you, too! You can make an appointment with us by calling our office or schedule one online through our website.