Endometriosis is a common disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus starts growing outside of the uterus. This tissue can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or even in the intestines. If you or a loved one suspects a diagnosis for endometriosis, your OB/GYN can answer many of your common questions.
I recently chatted with HelloGiggles about these questions, prompting me to share my responses with some additional information for parents and caregivers below.
What are the common symptoms associated with endometriosis?
Pelvic pain is the most common symptom related to endometriosis. The pain can be cyclic, worsening during menstrual periods, or can occur with activity such as sexual intercourse. Other common signs include infertility and ovarian cysts known as endometriomas, or “chocolate” cysts. However, some women with endometriosis exhibit no symptoms. There are several contributable factors to consider regarding development of endometriosis. One theory is that menstrual blood exits through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvis, causing inflammatory and immunologic responses.
Do we know of any lesser-known symptoms associated with endometriosis?
Less common signs of endometriosis include changes during urination (such as pain and increased frequency) or bowel movements (such as constipation or diarrhea), back pain and abnormal uterine bleeding. Rare signs of endometriosis might include chest pain and difficulty breathing.
What should a woman do if she suspects she might have endometriosis?
The best way to determine if endometriosis is causing your symptoms is to seek a thorough evaluation from a board-certified OB/GYN or fertility specialist. This evaluation may include a physical exam, pelvic ultrasound and blood work.
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
A definitive diagnoses of endometriosis is determined through a surgical approach. Laparoscopy is a minimally-invasive technique allowing simultaneous visualization and treatment of endometriosis. However, surgical diagnosis isn’t required to initiate medical therapy when a presumed diagnosis is made based on symptoms and imaging results.
What treatments are available for endometriosis?
Treatment options are chosen based on symptoms and patient goals. If pelvic pain is the presenting symptom, a combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen) and hormonal therapy (such as continuous birth control pills) can be a very effective treatment strategy. If infertility is the presenting symptom, surgery to remove endometriosis and evaluate fallopian tube patency might be an appropriate next step.
Could endometriosis impact fertility?
Endometriosis can impact fertility by damaging important reproductive organs, such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. When endometriomas form in the ovaries, they can reduce the number of healthy eggs that are present.