Endometriosis occurs when the lining of the uterus is found outside of the uterus. This lining, called the endometrium, can grow and attach itself to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer surface of the uterus, the lining of the pelvic cavity, the bladder or bowel, the vagina, cervix, or vulva. In other words, it can continue to grow and attach itself to anyplace within and around the abdominal cavity and even branch out from there.
It is often very painful because, as with the lining of the uterus, this tissue — no matter where it is located — responds to a woman’s monthly cycle. Each month it builds up, breaks down, and sheds. When this happens outside the uterus, the tissue and blood that would normally be shed as your period has no place to go. Instead, it can result in internal bleeding, lesions, and inflammation in the abdomen. Besides chronic pain, endometriosis can cause infertility.
If you have recently been diagnosed with endometriosis, you might wonder how this is going to affect your life. The following are 10 questions to ask your doctor to help you better understand, cope, and live with this condition. Brief answers are supplied to help you start the conversation.
What caused this?
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes endometriosis or even if there is a single cause. Some of the possible causes, according to the Office on Women’s Health, include menstrual flow that seeps into the fallopian tubes and abdominal cavity, genetics, problems with the immune system, hormonal problems, or past abdominal surgery.
What symptoms should I expect?
The most common symptom of endometriosis is chronic pain. You might have very painful menstrual cramps, lower back pain, intestinal pain, and pain during or after sex. Other symptoms include difficulty getting pregnant or infertility and digestive problems.
Are there medications that can help?
Hormonal birth control can often help with pain and bleeding. If you are not trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor about which forms of birth control would be best for you. If you are trying to get pregnant, your doctor might suggest a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist. This type of medication causes a temporary menopause and stops your periods. When you go off the medication and your cycle resumes, your chances of becoming pregnant are better.
Are medical treatments, such as surgery, available?
If you have severe symptoms, and hormonal treatments are not reducing your pain and bleeding, your doctor might talk to you about surgery to remove endometriosis patches in your abdomen.
Are there at-home remedies that will help relieve the symptoms?
If you are experiencing pain, you can take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen. Using a heating pad on your abdomen might also offer some relief from pain and cramping. According to the U.S. government Office on Women’s Health, some people find supplements such as thiamine, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, or herbs such as cinnamon twig or licorice root, help reduce symptoms.
Will this interfere with having a sexual relationship?
Some women with endometriosis experience pain during and after sexual intercourse. Treatments such as birth control pills can help reduce the pain. You might also find that you only experience pain at certain times of the month or that a different sexual position feels more comfortable, according to endometriosis.org. Each woman is different, but if you are experiencing pain during or after sexual intercourse, you should speak with your doctor.
Can I get pregnant if I have endometriosis?
Having endometriosis doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant, but it might mean that becoming pregnant is more difficult. According to endometriosis.org, women with mild symptoms take longer to conceive than women who do not have endometriosis. The more severe the symptoms, the more likely that you will have difficulty conceiving. It’s important to remember that many women with endometriosis have children.
If I do get pregnant, does it cause complications with the pregnancy?
A study completed in 2015 in the United Kingdom found that women with endometriosis had a higher risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy than those who do not have endometriosis. Another study completed in the Netherlands in 2009 found that women with endometriosis had a higher risk of premature birth. Women who have endometriosis and are pregnant should work closely with their doctor during their pregnancy to identify and monitor any potential complications.
If I have trouble getting pregnant, can I use fertility treatments?
You can use fertility treatments when you have endometriosis. According to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is an option for women with endometriosis. Although it does not have the same success rate as for women without endometriosis, those with endometriosis who use IVF have a higher success rate than those who do not use it.
Does endometriosis ever go away?
The symptoms of endometriosis sometimes go away after menopause with the decrease in the production of estrogen. The patches of excess tissue in the abdomen can slowly shrink, lessening the pain. Women who take estrogen therapy for menopausal symptoms might still experience symptoms of endometriosis.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.