Endometriosis is a medical condition that affects the inner lining of the uterus. This lining, called the endometrium (hence the name endometriosis), normally grows inside the uterus, but in this case, it grows outside. Endometriosis often found around the pelvic region, thus affecting the following organs; the ovaries, the fallopian tube, the outside the uterus and the bowel. Only a few cases have been found where the endometriosis affects the diaphragm and lung areas.
It is an extremely painful disorder and often difficult to be identified because it disguises itself as normal periods. The misplaced tissue continues to grow into lesions that resemble the menstrual cycle because it behaves in the same way as the tissue of the uterine line. As the tissue progressively grows each month, it gets to a point when it breaks down and releases blood. Unlike the menstrual blood which finds its way out through the birth canal, the bloodshed as a result of endometrial growth remains within because it lacks an exit. Continued stay of the blood in the body leads to more bleeding, the breakdown of the blood tissue and even inflammation, which leads to severe pains, bowel disorders, infertility adhesions and other complications.
Unfortunately, endometriosis is a common disorder affecting women all over the world. According to endometriosis.org, the disorder is estimated to affect one in every ten women during their reproductive years, that is women between 15 years and 49 years. In the U.S statistics show that it affects close to 6.5 million girls and women whereas in Canada it is close to 1 million and around 2 million women in the UK. The trend is the same the world over with an estimated 176 million women and girls being affected across the globe.
So, what are the symptoms of a person suffering from endometriosis? First, it is important to note that it is a chronic disease, and therefore, symptoms may vary over time from one individual to another. In very rare cases, some women show no symptoms at all. That said, the common symptoms include:
- Experiencing pain before and after periods
- Pain during sex
- Feeling of tiredness all the time
- Painful urination during periods
- Pain during bowel movements
It may also include allergies, blood in stool and even coughing. The degree of how prevalent the symptoms are depends on where in the body the abnormal tissues are, as opposed to the amount of tissue. That is why it is possible to have only a small amount of tissue, but feel more pain than someone with a large amount of tissue.
Many women and health practitioners have many times ignored the above symptoms referring to them as normal menstrual symptoms. This results in a delay in diagnosis, and by the time most cases are diagnosed, it is at an advanced stage. It is, therefore, advisable to seek medical attention as soon as one suspects to be affected by the disorder. Sometimes it may be difficult to diagnose the disorder, but with the help of a specialist or a gynaecologist, it may be much easier. After a series of few examinations, the doctor should be able to determine whether to go ahead and carry out a laparoscopy. Endometriosis can only be effectively confirmed through the surgical procedure referred to as laparoscopy.
Laparoscopy follows the same rules of carrying out surgery. The patient is put under general anaesthetic before the operation. A small tube with light is then passed into the body through a cut at the belly bottom. Fixed with a tiny camera the object can send images to a video monitor to identify the endometriosis tissue. At the end of the process, a patient can know whether she suffers from the disorder or not and can go home on the same day.
Causes of endometriosis
One may also be wondering on what causes endometriosis. Experts in the medical field are yet to identify the true cause of the condition, but there are a number of theories linked to the cause. The retrograde theory says that the disorder is as a result of the menstrual cycle tissue back up through the fallopian tubes, which then implants in the abdomen and start to grow. Another theory says that the endometrial tissue starts from the uterus, spreading to other parts of the body by the blood and lymph system or through genes as per the genetic theory.
Another theory says that the remains of the tissue from when the patient was an embryo may later grow to cause the condition or the ability of some tissues in the embryo stage to affect tissues in maturity though in rare cases. Others have cited that where surgical transplants are not done carefully, the tissue may be accidentally implanted in other areas of the body. There has also been a link between exposure to TCCD and endometriosis. Women who are exposed to this substance are therefore likely to develop the disorder.
The good news remains that a number of cases have been successfully treated even though there is no standard cure for the problem. Most cases have been treated by use of drugs. Other cases have also been corrected through surgery, but this depends on the level of expertise of the doctor and the level of the disease.
If detected earlier, the use of painkillers can be used to reduce the pain. Pregnancy has also been found to relieve the pain, but it is not a cure in itself. The use of hysterectomy, which includes removal of ovaries has a side effect of causing immediate menopause. Therefore, depending on the level and area affected, a doctor will choose any one or a combination of the above methods.
It is evident that this a condition that is difficult to deal with in treatment and has adverse effects on the physically and emotional conditions of those affected. Women and medical officers alike need to be given more awareness on the diseases and more support centres such as ‘Endometriosis UK’ need to be established.