Endometriosis happens when tissue usually found on the inside of the uterus grows in other parts of the body. The tissue is called endometrium. Although it is normally in the uterus, in endometriosis, this tissue attaches itself to the ovaries, the bowel, or other internal organs.
Most people have never heard of endometriosis but it is an extremely common medical condition. It primarily affects women of reproductive age (25-40). In the vast majority of women, endometriosis has no symptoms and usually goes unnoticed. At other times, however, it may cause some stomach pain, heavy periods, or back pain.
Causes and risk factors of endometriosis
Researchers do not know what causes endometriosis. Yet, there seem to be a few things that can increase a woman’s chances of getting it1:
- Women who started their period at an early age
- Women who go through menopause at an older age
- Never giving birth (this increases the amount of time your body is exposed to the estrogen)
- Having a family history of endometriosis – if your mom or siblings have endometriosis, there is a higher risk of having it yourself
- Alcohol consumption
Most women with endometriosis have no symptoms or the symptoms are so mild that it goes unnoticed. In some cases, for women who have bigger patches of endometriosis, they may notice some of the following symptoms2:
- Painful periods
- Painful intercourse (usually during or after)
- Pain in the lower tummy and pelvic area
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain when opening the bowels
- Difficulty becoming pregnant (reduced fertility)
When to see your doctor
Because the symptoms of endometriosis are not always constant, it can be difficult to know when you should go and see your doctor. In general, make an appointment with your gynecologist if you have any of the symptoms above. You should also make an appointment if you have very painful periods or pelvic pain that does not go away. If seeing a family practitioner, they may refer you to a gynecologist.
The diagnosis of endometriosis can only come from your doctor. Usually, this will involve taking a history, a physical examination, and possibly doing a test called a laparoscopy. This is a camera test used to visualize the inside of the uterus where it can spot the patches of endometriosis.
Treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are or if the condition is affecting your fertility. Mild endometriosis treatment involves medications such as oral contraceptives or over-the-counter pain medications.
More severe cases of endometriosis may need surgery. Every case of endometriosis is specific to each person. Your doctor will always discuss the best treatment options for you and your lifestyle.
1-Mayo Clinic. Endometriosis. August 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20236425
2- Patient.co.uk. Endometriosis. https://patient.info/health/endometriosis-leaflet