Your Guide to Understanding Endometriosis

Your Guide to Understanding Endometriosis

Our expert: Dr. Sherry Ross

Sheryl A. Ross, M.D., “Dr. Sherry,” is an award-winning OBGYN, our go-to for pregnancy, postpartum, menopause and beyond. She’s practiced for 20+ years, recently won both a Top Ten OB/GYN & Patient’s Choice Award. She also has a line of custom vitamins made specially for women, Dr. Ross D3FY Vitamins.

I’m 15 years old and have just been diagnosed with endometriosis. I vaguely knew what it was before I was diagnosed, but since then I have done more research, and I was just wondering, do you have any tips on how to deal with the pain, or know of any organizations that specialize in it?

I’ve tried to talk to some of my friends about it, but they don’t seem to understand what it is, and just say, “Oh you’ll be fine.” Do you have any advice on how to talk to them about it? It’s quite a scary thing to be told, and I think that it’s an issue that needs to be discussed more as it is quite common and a lot of people don’t understand what it is, which is very sad. 

Endometriosis is where tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside the uterus. “Endometrial implants”, as they are referred to, can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowels, bladder, and anywhere else in the pelvis.

Endometriosis is a long-term medical condition that can be debilitating for women. Treatment can be challenging and frustrating. Many of the hormonal treatments have side effects that are often worse than the symptoms caused by endometriosis. It is incredibly important to find a health care provider who is comfortable and competent in treating endometriosis and who can guide your treatment based on your personal needs.

 

What is the typical onset for endometriosis?

The onset of symptoms related to endometriosis varies person to person. Symptoms happen as a result of your menstrual cycles or better known as your period. With each period the endometrial implants will bleed no matter where they are located in your body. As a result of the bleeding implant(s), scar tissue or “spider webs” as I like to refer to them, develop in your pelvis causing pain and all the other symptoms related to endometriosis.
What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of endometriosis are related to pain, which can be chronic and disruptive. Symptoms can be described as mild, moderate, or severe. Pain is more commonly seen before and during the period and includes painful periods, painful sex, lower back pain and pelvic pain. Also, 40 % of women with infertility have endometriosis. Surprisingly, some women don’t have any symptoms at all!
What are the risk factors?

You are more likely to get endometriosis if you have a mother, sister or aunt with endometriosis, have never had a child, or have long periods lasting longer than 7 days. Severe acne as a teenager and certain pesticides has also been studied suggesting a link to endometriosis.

 

Is there anything preventative that women can do?

The cause of endometriosis is not really known. Unfortunately there is not anything that can be done to prevent endometriosis. Many believe that keeping your estrogen levels low can help reduce your risk. The birth control pill, regular exercise, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine all help keep estrogen levels low in your body and help reduce your risk.

 

What are the treatment options?

The goal in treating endometriosis is to treat the symptoms. Medication is first used to treat the pain and heavy bleeding. Pain relievers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and hormones such as the birth control pill, progesterone IUD or Lupron are recommended.

Surgery is often needed when medications have failed, the symptoms are severe, or there are issues related to infertility. Laparoscopy is performed to remove or burn the endometrial implants, which helps treat the symptoms and increases the chance of getting pregnant.


How is endometriosis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of endometriosis can first be suspected by a patient’s history and performing a pelvic exam. The only way to accurately diagnose endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy where the endometrial implants can be seen directly. Endometriosis is typically diagnosed in women in their 30s.
How many women have endometriosis and how long it usually takes to get a diagnosis?

Endometriosis is a common medical condition affecting one in ten women during their “fertile” years. Since symptoms vary between women, so does the time it takes to make the diagnosis. It’s important to discuss symptoms of pelvic and period pain with your health care provider. Diagnosis can be tricky even for the specialists.
Is there anything promising on the horizon?

Women are becoming more aware of the bodies and have more access to medical information. Many women already suspect the diagnosis of endometriosis after doing their own research on line before going to see their health care provider. This is a positive step in women becoming their own patient advocate.

 

Menopause and Endometriosis

Since your estrogen levels drop with menopause, the painful symptoms of endometriosis will get better once your body makes this transition. Women with endometriosis often look forward to menopause as a result!

The main message here is to be your own health advocate and learn what are normal symptoms and what are not. You need a health care provider and a circle of friends who are supportive, understanding and helpful through challenging diagnosis.

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Cover photo courtesy of Shutterstock.