Updated: May 11
Not sure what endometriosis is, what the symptoms are and how it's typically diagnosed and treated? Then this quick guide is just for you.
What is endometriosis?
Endometrial tissue is usually only found within the uterus and is what sheds as part of a women's menstrual cycle. It is when this endometrial tissue is found outside of the uterus that one is considered to have endometriosis.
Triggered by the hormonal changes that signal your period to start, these extra-uterine implants or lesions also bleed in sync with the menstrual cycle. The blood is highly irritating to the body, and causes an inflammatory reaction. Over time this can lead to the formation of scar tissue and adhesions, meaning the organs stick to other organs and become less mobile.
The most common site lesions are found is in the pelvic region, particularly on the ovaries. This can result in ovarian cysts or endometriomas forming. They are also nicknamed chocolate cysts, due to the colour within the cyst.
The pain associated with endometriosis can be excruciating. The location or number of lesions (implants) is not the determining factor but rather how deep the lesion penetrates into the tissue it resides on. When a chocolate cyst bursts it can also be a considerably painful experience with many heading to the emergency room for help.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
The most common symptoms include:
Chronic or intermittent pelvic pain
Pain with sex
Heavy or irregular periods
Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea or IBS-like symptoms
Ovarian endometrial mass/tumor (affects about 20 percent of people with endometriosis)
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
It takes around 7-10 years of suffering before being fully diagnosed! Many are told their symptoms are due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and therefore struggle for years without the right support. Diagnosis can be tricky since the endometrial growths are not usually visible by ultrasound. A more invasive (and more expensive) procedure called a laproscopy is required for accurate diagnosis. MRI scans can also be beneficial.
What is the standard medical treatment for endometriosis?
Hormonal therapies, like oral contraceptives, progestins and GnRH agonists are commonly used and can relieve the symptoms of mild to moderate pain, but they have potential short- and long-term side effects.
Pain medications like ibuprofen and other NSAIDs provide temporary relief but also have their risks with long term use. Users are a greater risk of damage to the gut lining, and of having a heart attack or stroke.
Surgical treatments include laparoscopic removal of the endometrial tissue or a full or partial hysterectomy.
While laparoscopic removal of endometrial tissue can alleviate symptoms for as long as two years, in most cases, the symptoms do eventually return, and the procedure itself increases the risk of forming scar tissue.
A hysterectomy is usually reserved for when all else fails, or if the symptoms are unbearable. However, many women are not fully informed before undergoing this major abdominal surgery that even if the ovaries remain intact, they can still experience ovarian failure. Hormonal symptoms and the long-term consequences of imbalanced hormones (such as osteoporosis and even cancer) are still a very real risk.
Plus, it is important to consider the impact on the structural tissues. With removal of an organ, other organs shift to fill its place, potentially adding stress to the digestive organs and fascial tissues. This can result in pain, the very symptom you're seeking solace from!
What other options are available for the treatment and management of endometriosis?
A more holistic natural approach to the management and treatment of endometriosis is recommended by functional medicine and integrative practitioners like myself. Though I understand the frustration of many endometriosis sufferers, who have often been undiagnosed for years and are desperate for a quick solution.
Getting to the root cause of endometriosis can take many months but it is worth it for the long-term health benefits.
Fortunately, there are studies to back up several of the natural therapies that can offer relief for those with endometriosis, and without the side effects of other medical treatments.
To learn more visit Endometriosis - why the pill is not the answer & what is.
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