Endometriosis is a disease that plagues hundreds of thousands of women every year. Because symptoms and degrees of pain vary in intensity, endometriosis (ENDO) is often misdiagnosed and dismissed as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, ENDO is much more serious than PMS, and the longer ENDO goes undiagnosed, the greater the potential for long-term health risks. Because so many questions are left unanswered, this female specific disease begs for more research to be done by scientists and medical experts. This article will offer a simplified explication of the disease in layman’s terms and will offer tips on where to seek reliable advice and medical attention.
THE DISEASE Endometriosis is bleeding that occurs outside of the uterine wall. Deposits of endometrial tissue are like open sores and can be found anywhere in a woman’s body – mostly in the abdominal cavity. There has been evidence of endometriosis found on other organs such as the bladder, fallopian tubes and lungs. Remnants have even been found in women’s shoulders. The body’s attempt to heal itself of these internal wounds causes these tissue to scar and form adhesions. The adhesions continue to grow until they create a web-like effect by attaching its free end to another body part. Estrogen is what research has donned as the culprit for “feeding” endometriosis. Some research suggests that genetics also play a role, but there have been documented cases of victims with ENDO who do not have any prior family history of the disease. The longer the disease goes undiagnosed, the greater the probability for severe internal scarring, adhesions and in turn, pain – pain that is often unexplainable but that can be felt when the body moves into a new position – pain that can be felt after sitting for a long time – and pain that can hinder ones pleasure during intercourse.
THE SYMPTOMS There are four stages of endometriosis, level four being the most severe. However, levels are not necessarily equally associated with pain. In other words, just because a woman has severe abdominal pain does not necessarily mean she also has endometriosis level four. Pain varies from woman to woman and may depend on such factors as a woman’s pain tolerance and where the endometriosis exists. If the ENDO adhesions are strangling the fallopian tubes, a woman may experience debilitating discomfort during ovulation. If the ENDO is resting on a nerve, the pain would be as severe. However, if the endometrial adhesion is resting on an organ, there may be little to no symptoms. So, how does one know she has endometriosis and when should she investigate her risk of developing or harboring the disease? Having a family history or endometriosis, infertility, pain with intercourse and severe pain during ovulation and menstruation are all symptoms of endometriosis.
THE DIAGNOSIS Don’t be misled by physicians and gynecologists who claim that a simple test or office exam can determine whether or not you have ENDO. The only way ENDO can be diagnosed is through surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is the most common form of surgery, but it is major surgery and does require anesthesia. The length of the procedure depends upon the extent of the surgeon’s findings once inside the abdominal cavity. A surgeon can view the internal organs of the abdominal cavity through three or four one-inch incisions via an endoscope. If the surgeon finds evidence of endometrial deposits, she/he will seal the adhesion by burning it with laser technology. Laser surgery, however, is not the ideal solution. When the area is burned, a smoke appears and clouds a surgeon’s perception of the depth of the affected area. This leads to shoddy guess-work (whether intentional or not) and often results in untreated and/or partially treated adhesions. Only one physician, Dr. Redwine, has devised and perfected a technique using surgical tools other than laser. For more information about Dr. Redwine, contact the Endometriosis Association.
THE TREATMENT Post surgical confirmation and eradication of all visible - visible since endometriosis can be disguised in a variety of colors from red to chocolate brown to pink to pale yellow – evidence of the disease, there may be need for hormone therapy. The hormone, estrogen, feeds endometriosis; take away the estrogen and the ENDO and its symptoms should subside.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for endometriosis and until more women demand better answers and a cure, the likelihood of funding and research on the disease is less likely. If you or someone you know has been affected by endometriosis, there are things you can do. Research the topic yourself. Contact the Endometriosis Association. Get involved with ENDO Awareness groups and attend the annual Endometriosis Association Conference. In the case of women’s diseases associated with menstruation, the tendency is to be dismissive and isolate the reoccurring and painful incidents as something we must accept. It is true that silence is golden – but not when it comes to this crippling disease. ENDO may not kill, but it will rob her of the quality of life. Put the roses back in the path of someone you care for – perhaps yourself. Find out the facts and find a voice for the thousands stricken with this disease.