More than five and half million women in North America have endometriosis (abnormal growth of endometrial cells), making it one of the most common female health issues.
Pain and infertility are the two most common endometriosis symptoms. Quality of life can be adversely affected by the pain, which may occur before/during/after sex, in association with menstruation, during urination or bowel movements. Some of the other symptoms include frequent miscarriage, intestinal upset, fatigue and PMS. It is possible to have endometriosis without ever experiencing pain, in which case a woman doesn’t even know she has it until she is diagnosed when the inability to get pregnant leads her to a doctor. Medical experts do not agree on the exact cause of endometriosis. There are a number of theories that try to describe the causes of the disease.
A major theory about the cause of endometriosis involves genetic structure. The disease could be inherited, or result from genetic errors, making some women more likely than others to develop the condition. If scientists can find a specific gene or genes related to endometriosis in some women, genetic testing might allow health care providers to detect endometriosis much earlier, or even prevent it from happening at all. There are other possible causes, as well. Estrogen, a hormone involved in the female reproductive cycle, seems to advance the growth of endometriosis.
Research is currently looking into endometriosis as a disease of the endocrine system (the body’s system of glands, hormones, and other secretions). Or, it may be that a woman’s immune system does not remove fluid in the pelvic cavity properly, or the chemicals made by areas of endometriosis may irritate or promote growth of more endometriosis. Which is leading to the study of the role of the immune system in either starting or growing endometriosis. There is much research that focuses on determining whether environmental agents, such as exposure to synthetic chemicals, cause the disease. Another important area of research is the search for endometriosis markers. These markers are substances made by or in response to endometriosis that health care providers could potentially measure in the blood or urine. If markers are found, scientists could diagnose endometriosis by testing a woman’s body fluids, thereby reducing the need for surgery to confirm the disease..
Currently, physicians have several tests at their disposal for endometriosis diagnosis. Imaging tests produce a “picture” of the inside of the body, which allows them to locate endometriosis areas. Two major imaging tests are ultrasound (use of sound waves) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (use of magnets and radio waves to make the picture). Laparascopy is usually performed to verify the presence of endometriosis. Probably the most common symptom of endometriosis is pain, mostly in the abdomen, lower back and pelvic areas. The amount of pain felt does not correlate to how much endometriosis there actually is. Some women have no pain even though their endometriosis is extensive, meaning that the affected areas are large or that there is scarring. However, some women have severe pain even though they have only a few little endometriosis areas.
There a number of treatments for pain related to endometriosis symptoms. Pain treatments include:
- Pain medication – if pain is mild, medication may work well. The medication can possibly be an over-the-counter remedy, but strong prescription drugs for managing pain are also available.
- Hormone therapy – hormones can be delivered in pill form, injection, or in a nasal spray. Common hormones used to treat endometriosis are progesterone and progestin, GnRH (gonadatropin-releasing hormone) birth control pills, and danocrine. Current research is exploring the use of other hormones in treating endometriosis and its related pain.
- Surgical treatment – when the endometriosis is extensive, or in the presence of severe pain, surgical treatments are generally recommended.
One of the worst female health issues to deal with is the physical and emotional pain of endometriosis and research is continually ongoing.