What is Endometriosis & How Do We Treat It?
One in ten women is affected by endometriosis, and though the cause of it is uncertain, it does appear to run in families.
What is Endometriosis?
It is a condition in which the cells that line the inside of the uterus (called the “endometrium”) grow outside of the uterus.
Like the endometrial cells within the uterus, these implants of endometriosis are responsive to the hormonal changes that occur as a woman progresses through her menstrual cycle. Unlike endometrial cells within the uterus, they do not shed when a woman menstruates. Instead, they are trapped within the body. They can cause inflammation and irritation of the surfaces to which they are attached, making periods very painful.
What is the Treatment for Endometriosis?
The treatment is mainly hormonal in nature. Most patients benefit from treatment with birth control pills, progesterone releasing Intrauterine devices (IUDs), or injectable medications.
Occasionally medications do not control a patient’s symptoms. In such cases, minimally invasive surgery may be beneficial.
Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to better outcomes. Unfortunately, it often takes several years from the time a woman notices her first symptoms until she receives a diagnosis of endometriosis.
What Happens if Endometriosis is Untreated?
If left untreated, it can result in menstrual periods that are progressively more painful, and even pain that occurs outside of having a period.
Endometriosis is also linked to infertility. Treatment has been shown to improve one’s chance of becoming pregnant. Recent studies also show a link between endometriosis and certain types of ovarian cancer, though the risk of developing such cancers is low.
What are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
- Painful menstruation
- Heavy menstruation
- Pain with sexual intercourse
- Pain with urination and bowel movements
Fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods may also be symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor if you have signs or symptoms of endometriosis.
You can set up an appointment with one of our specialists by contacting Women’s Health Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center at 802-847-1400.
Joseph Findley, MD, is an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He is also an assistant professor at the Robert Larner, MD College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.