Endometriosis is a long and complicated name – perfectly fitting for this long and complicated condition and the related diagnostic journey. Among its many challenges, because the primary symptom is pain that could be in numerous different areas throughout the body, it doesn’t necessarily present as a purely gynecologic condition and as a result, most women don’t start with an OBGYN, which is the specialist most likely to diagnose it. Let’s start with the basics.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that affects around 11% of people of reproductive age. It occurs when endometrial-like tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows in parts of the body outside the uterus like the abdomen, pelvis, chest, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is most common in people between 25 and 40 years old but can occur during teenage years as well. Endometriosis can cause painful symptoms such as cramping or heavy bleeding during periods, pain during or after sex, pain in the abdomen or lower back, and infertility.
What causes endometriosis?
The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but researchers have found some risk factors associated with it. These include having a family history of endometriosis, starting one’s period earlier than 11 years old, having shorter menstrual cycles (less than 27 days), and having longer menstrual cycles that last more than seven days.
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
The pain associated with endometriosis can spread around the pelvis or be localized. Because of the ectopic (outside the uterus) nature of endometriosis, it can be found almost anywhere in the body, sometimes causing symptoms that may lead one off the track of endometriosis.
When it comes to diagnosing endometriosis, a healthcare provider, such as an OBGYN, will use a patient’s symptoms and medical history to provide an initial diagnosis of the condition.They may then proceed to perform a pelvic exam, an ultrasound or an MRI to get a clearer view of the reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes to confirm their initial diagnosis.
The biggest challenge in diagnosing endometriosis is that results from ultrasounds and other less invasive tests are often inconclusive; a definitive diagnosis of endometriosis usually requires laparoscopic surgery which involves inserting a thin tube with a camera and light into the skin to examine the patches of endometriosis and take a tissue sample. Endometriosis can also sometimes be discovered during other procedures, even if a patient isn’t experiencing any symptoms.
How to treat endometriosis?
Treating endometriosis can look different depending on how severe the condition is and what symptoms you’re experiencing. If the tissue is observed during laparoscopic surgery, it may be able to be treated or removed through cauterization.
Other treatment plans may include various medications, hormone therapies or physical therapy to reduce the inflammation. Specific drugs, supplements, or procedures (like IVF) might be encouraged if fertility is an issue.
Surgical options could be considered depending on the severity of the symptoms and the patient’s age, as well as whether the patient plans on having children in the future.That may include a neurectomy or hysterectomy to the extent the symptoms are severe. Ultimately, an individualized treatment plan is best for managing endometriosis.
Can you get pregnant with endometriosis?
Endometriosis can make it harder for someone to get pregnant. If you’re trying to get pregnant with endometriosis, you might want to consider fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF). It’s possible to get pregnant if you still have your uterus and ovaries, although regular check-ups with your doctor are important to look out for recurrence of symptoms and look after your health.
Symptom tracking, gynecological and family history are critical to self-advocacy for an effective diagnosis and treatment plan. Find out how Kith + Kin can help.