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Understanding Endometriosis

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, a movement across the globe to bring attention to a disease that affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. Endometriosis can have a devastating effect on a woman’s quality of life due to its very painful symptoms and effect on fertility. Unfortunately, despite affecting millions of women, it still lurks very much in the shadows. Here are just some of the facts we all should know.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that should line the inside of a woman’s uterus grows outside of it instead. Even though the tissue is on the outside of the uterus, it still acts as it should during menstruation – breaking apart and bleeding every cycle.

Because the blood from this tissue has no place to go, surrounding areas of the body may become inflamed or swollen and scar tissue and lesions can develop. Endometriosis can occur anywhere around the uterus but is most often found on the ovaries.

Because the condition can vary so greatly from woman to woman, there are a wide variety of symptoms:

  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea); pelvic pain and cramping may begin before a woman’s period and extend several days into it
  • Lower back and abdominal pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination, often during a woman’s period
  • Excessive bleeding, including occasional heavy periods (menorrhagia) or bleeding between periods (menometrorrhagia)
  • Infertility

Women may also experience fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods.

Is There a Cure For Endometriosis?

At this time, we still do not know why endometriosis occurs, and there is no cure. Therefore, the healthcare industry tends to focus on pain and symptom management.

Treatment Options for Endometriosis

Treatments for endometriosis typically fall into the following categories:

  • Pain management – If the pain is manageable with over-the-counter medications , NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are often recommended.
  • Hormone therapy – Adjusting the level of estrogen in the body can help lesions bleed less, which decreases inflammation, scarring, and cyst formation. Commonly prescribed hormone treatments include:
    • Birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings
    • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists
    • Progestin-only contraceptives
    • Danazol (Danocrine)
  • Lifestyle changes, self-care, alternative therapies – Besides non-medication pain management (e.g., hot baths, warm compresses, etc.), some women also have success managing their hormone levels through diet, exercise, and/or alternative therapies like acupuncture.
  • Surgery – In some cases, women choose to have full hysterectomies to address endometriosis. This is typically a last resort and should always be discussed in light of a woman’s personal reproductive goals, overall health, age, etc.

If you think you may have endometriosis, drug maker AbbVie has a helpful website that can guide you through assessing your symptoms and preparing to have a productive conversation with your doctor.


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