Periods can often be a real pain, causing terrible menstrual cramps, headaches, and even muscle aches. But sometimes menstruation can be associated with extreme symptoms. If you are experiencing painful cramping, abnormal menstrual bleeding, and happen to be suffering from unexplained infertility, you may be experiencing a condition known as endometriosis. Endometriosis can wreak havoc with your menstrual cycle and may be contributing to your fertility issues.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects a woman's menstrual cycle. It plagues more than five million women in the United States every year. Endometriosis causes tissue that is similar to your endometrial lining to build up outside of your uterus. Just like your endometrium, this tissue can shed during menstruation, causing extreme pain and irregular bleeding.
If you suffer from endometriosis, tissue can grow on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterine wall. This tissue builds up during menstruation and begins to shed, only the blood has no way of exiting the body. As a result, this discarded blood and tissue remains in the body, causing pain, scar tissue, and organ adhesions.
Although the symptoms of endometriosis can be extreme, many doctors overlook these signs as just a regular part of a woman's menstrual cycle. As a result, it can often be difficult to get a proper diagnosis quickly. In fact, studies have found that it can take as much as nine years before a woman is officially diagnosed with endometriosis. To help speed up the process, knowing just what to say to your doctor about your endometriosis can help you get a diagnosis sooner.
Endometriosis and Infertility
Unfortunately, many women who suffer with endometriosis also suffer from infertility. In fact, between 30% and 40% of infertile women have endometriosis. This is because endometriosis can result in severe scarring of the reproductive organs.
As the tissue that grows on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterine wall sheds, scar tissue can form. This can block the fallopian tubes, disrupt the shape of your uterus, or interfere with ovulation. Endometrial tissue can also cause pelvic adhesions, in which organs vital to reproduction stick together. As a result of this, many women suffering from endometriosis cannot become pregnant.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Unfortunately, the cause of endometriosis is not completely understood, though a number of possible reasons for the disease have been addressed. Possible causes of endometriosis include:
- Genetics: Endometriosis appears to run in families, which suggests a genetic component to the disease.
- Menstrual Fluid Backup: Endometriosis may be the result of a backup of menstrual fluids. If menstrual fluids back up through the fallopian tubes, it is possible that the tissue could take root outside of the uterus.
- Problems with Lymph and Blood Systems: Endometriosis may be caused by a problem with your lymph or blood systems. These symptoms are responsible for distributing endometrial tissues around the body.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Severe pelvic pain is the most obvious symptom of endometriosis. If you are experiencing any type of severe abdominal pain it is important for you to visit with your health care provider. However, not all women suffer from these terrible cramps. Other common symptoms of endometriosis include:
- painful periods
- pain during ovulation
- deep, stabbing pain during intercourse
- painful bowel movements
- painful urination
- heavy bleeding or bleeding between periods
In order to avoid further damage to your reproductive organs, it is necessary to get treatment for your endometriosis as soon as possible. There is no cure for the condition, however, a number of excellent treatments are available to reduce your discomfort and preserve your fertility.
There are a variety of medications designed to help reduce the symptoms of endometriosis. Commonly-prescribed medications include:
- Pain Killers: Over-the-counter pain killers can help to reduce the cramping and pain associated with endometriosis. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxin are used by many women suffering from the condition. If your pain is severe, speak with your health care provider about a prescription pain killer.
- Hormonal Contraceptives: The birth control pill can help to regulate your menstruation and reduce period pain by controlling ovulation. Many women with endometriosis take the birth control pill continuously, in order to reduce the number of periods they experience each year.
- Gn-RH Agonists: Gn-RH agonists are a synthetic form of gonadatropin-releasing hormone. This hormone helps to control estrogen production in your body, which contributes to the growth of endometrial tissue. Bleeding and other symptoms of endometriosis tend to disappear within four to six weeks of beginning Gn-RH therapy.
Sometimes surgery is required to help reduce or eliminate endometriosis symptoms. Various surgeries can be performed including endometrial ablation. However, these surgeries may compromise future fertility.
If you are suffering from endometriosis-related infertility, you will likely be placed on a Gn-RH agonist. This will help to slow pelvic bleeding and preserve fertility. IUI or IVF is then recommended in order to achieve pregnancy.