March represents Endometriosis Awareness Month, a common health issue that affects more than 11%, or 6.5 million, women in the US. Unfortunately, the causes of the disease are relatively unknown, and it has no recognized cure. However, with early detection, symptoms may be treated for the problems endometriosis presents.
To raise awareness for this disease, we take a closer look at what endometriosis is, the symptoms to pay attention to, and how it affects fertility.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis, sometimes referred to as "endo," is an inflammatory disease where endometrial tissue (similar to the lining of the uterus) grows outside of the uterus and in other areas where it doesn't naturally occur – most commonly on a woman's ovaries, fallopian tubes, tissues that hold the uterus in place, and the outer surface of the uterus. Less common locations for endometriosis to grow are the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder, rectum, lungs, brain, and skin.
Women in their 30s and 40s are generally most susceptible to receiving an endo diagnosis. Still, it can surface in any female who has menstrual periods. Researchers have indicated that the following scenarios may increase your chances of getting endometriosis:
Abnormal menstrual periods. Retrograde menstrual flow, periods that last more than seven days, and short menstrual cycles (27 days or fewer) are all possible causes of endometriosis.
Genes. Endometriosis is a disease that can be inherited.
Weak immune system. This may prevent the eradication of endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus.
Estrogen. Hard one to avoid! But there appears to be a link between endo and estrogen. In fact, endometriosis may be a problem with the body's hormone system.
How do you know if you have endometriosis? What are the symptoms?
Generally speaking, pain is the most significant indicator that it might be time to seek an official diagnosis from a doctor. This may include abnormally painful periods, pain associated with sexual intercourse, chronic abdominal pain, painful bowel movements or urination, and excessive bleeding. And this pain may intensify over time.
Infertility is also linked to endometriosis (more on this below) and maybe the first diagnosis in those experiencing fertility challenges.
Because endometriosis can be difficult to manage, early detection is critical. Therefore, we recommend seeking a doctor's advice if you present any of the symptoms mentioned above.
How does endometriosis affect fertility?
Unfortunately, up to half of the women with endo may find it difficult to become pregnant. And this is the prime complication of endometriosis. How? Endometriosis may block the fallopian tube and prevent the egg and sperm from uniting. But the disease can affect fertility in the following ways also:
Distorts the anatomy of the pelvis
Scars fallopian tubes
Creates inflammation in the pelvic structures
Alters immune system functioning
Changes the hormonal environment of the eggs
Impairs implantation of a pregnancy
Alters egg quality
It's important to note that your doctor will provide you with a score upon evaluating the severity of your endometriosis and assessing its location, volume, and depth. Based on a 4-point scale, your score will help you understand if you have a minimal, mild, moderate, or severe case of endometriosis, which correlates with pregnancy success.
If you seek additional resources on endometriosis, we have provided a list of sources for this article below!