What Is It?
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found elsewhere in the body. Endometriosis lesions can be found in the pelvic cavity: on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and on the pelvic sidewall. Other locations that are not so common are caecarian section scars, bladder, bowel, intestines, colon, appendix, and rectum. Even rarer, endometriosis can be found inside the vagina, inside the bladder, on the skin, in the lungs, spine, and brain.
What Are Some Symptoms?
The most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain. The pain often correlates to the menstrual cycle, however a woman may also experience pain at other times during her monthly cycle. For many women, the pain of endometriosis can unfortunately be so severe and debilitating that it impacts on her life in significant ways.
Pain may be felt:
- before/during/after menstruation
- during ovulation
- in the bowel during menstruation
- when passing urine
- during or after sexual intercourse
- in the lower back region
Other symptoms may include:
- diarrhoea or constipation (in particular in connection with menstruation)
- abdominal bloating (again, in connection with menstruation)
- heavy or irregular bleeding
Another well known symptom associated with endometriosis is infertility. It is estimated that 30-40% of women with endometriosis are subfertile.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Several different hypotheses have been put forward as to what causes endometriosis. Unfortunately, none of these theories have ever been entirely proven, nor do they fully explain all the mechanisms associated with the development of the disease. Thus, the cause of endometriosis remains unknown. Several theories have become more accepted, and reality is that it may be a combination of factors, which make some women develop endometriosis.
Metaplasia - Metaplasia means to change from one normal type of tissue to another normal type of tissue. Some researchers believe this happens in the embryo, when the uterus is first forming. Others believe that some adult cells retain the ability they had in the embryonic stage to transform into reproductive tissue.
Retrograde menstruation - This theory was promoted by Dr. John Sampson in the 1920s. He surmised that menstrual tissue flows backwards through the fallopian tubes and deposits on the pelvic organs where it seeds and grows.
Genetic predisposition - Studies have shown that first-degree relatives of women with this disease are more likely to develop endometriosis. And when there is a hereditary link, the disease tends to be worse in the next generation.
Lymphatic or vascular distribution - Endometrial fragments may travel through blood vessels or the lymphatic system to other parts of the body. This may explain how endometriosis ends up in distant sites, such as the lung, brain, skin, or eye.
Immune system dysfunctions - Some women with endometriosis appear to display certain immunologic defects of dysfunctions. Whether this is a cause or effect of the disease remains unknown.
Environmental influences - Some studies have pointed to environmental factors as contributors to the development of endometriosis, specifically related to the way toxins in the environment have an effect on the reproductive hormones and immune system response, though this theory has not been proven and remains controversial.
What Are Some Treatments?
Choosing a treatment comes down to the individual woman's needs, depending on her symptoms, her age, and her fertility wishes.
Pain killers, hormonal therapies, surgery, nutritional therapy, and complementary therapies are all ways to help combat symptoms with endometriosis.
All information can be found here.