Endometriosis is a medical condition that affects a percentage of menstruating women all around the world. Most commonly associated with severe abdominal and pelvic pain, endometriosis is caused by the development of endometrial cells and tissue, the cells and tissue normally found inside the uterus, in other areas of the body. Just like the endometrial tissue inside the uterus, the external endometrial tissue also reacts to hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, it thickens, breaks down and needs to be shed from the body. However, as this tissue is situated outside the uterus, there is no path through which it can exit the body.
The build up of the undischarged endometrial tissue called endometrial plugs, outside the uterus, can result in excruciating pain in the pelvis and abdomen. While period cramps are a common affliction for menstruating women, those suffering from endometriosis often complain of much more severe cramping that continues after the end of the menstrual cycle and can get worse with time.
Pain in the pelvis and abdomen and pelvic region during or after sexual intercourse and/or during urination and bowel movements is another symptom of endometriosis. Some women may suffer from extremely heavy bleeding during their periods, and in extreme cases or if left untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility in women.
Other symptoms that may accompany a diagnosis of endometriosis include fatigue, constipation, nausea and bloating, particularly during menstruation.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, and no specific cause that can be isolated, the condition is treatable with medication. The most common treatment for endometriosis is the use oral contraceptive pills. Since endometrial tissue develops in order to prepare the body for pregnancy, oral contraceptive pills, which mimic pregnancy in a woman, ensure that the tissue does not develop at all, therefore negating the symptoms of endometriosis. Over-the-counter pain medication can also be used symptomatically to treat endometriosis pain.
In extreme cases, doctors may recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove endometrial cells, where a scope is inserted through small incisions in the abdomen, the endometrial tissue is identified and removed. In the rarest of cases, when the symptoms of endometriosis are very severe, the most aggressive treatment is a hysterectomy. This is a last-resort when laparoscopic surgery and other non-invasive treatment methods are not effective in treating the condition.
Despite their being no cure, effective pain management and healthy lifestyle choices including exercise and a balanced diet will allow most women suffering from endometriosis to live a relatively normal life. In cases where fertility is at risk, contraceptives and other hormone therapies as well as fertility treatments may be advised.
So ladies, if you have abnormally painful periods or any of the symptoms we have talked about here, visit your doctor at the earliest to rule out a diagnosis of endometriosis or to start an effective course of treatment.