March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month
Endometriosis is a common disorder, occurring in one out of ten girls and women and affecting mostly those of reproductive age. Because of the complexity of the disorder and lack of awareness of the disease, endometriosis is often one of the most misdiagnosed disorders. Statistics show that women often receive a delayed diagnosis, waiting up to 7-10 years after they first have symptoms. Michael Breen, MD, a gynecologist with UT Health Austin’s Women’s Health Institute says, “For years women have been told severe pelvic and menstrual pain was normal and awareness about endometriosis and adenomyosis (endometriosis in wall of uterus) was low in suffering women. Modern treatments, which include precise minimally invasive excision of deep infiltrating endometriosis, can tremendously reduce pain. Scarring and infertility are both known effects of endometriosis and both can be significantly reduced with innovative treatments and techniques.”
What is endometriosis?
In the simplest terms, endometriosis occurs when the uterine tissue (which sheds during a normal menstrual cycle) grows outside the uterus. When a woman has endometriosis, the endometrial tissue implants on the lining of the pelvis, and may involve the reproductive organs such as the ovaries (forming an endometrioma) and uterus (called adenomyosis). Endometriosis can also implant on the bladder and bowels. Over time, the tissue creates a surrounding inflammatory reaction that eventually forms scar tissue, called adhesions, to form between the organs. Endometriosis can cause a woman to experience pain throughout the month and throughout menses, leaving them with chronic pelvic pain.
5 Signs of Endometriosis
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls endometriosis an “invisible illness”. Women with this disorder may appear normal, but are suffering from severe pain in silence. So how would you know if you have endometriosis? Listen to your body, and if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or provider.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Painful bowel or bladder symptoms
- Pain with sex
- Heavy, painful periods
Although many of these symptoms are also present for other pelvic disorders, the only way you can know for sure is to talk with your clinician about your concerns.
Is there a solution?
Dr. Breen observes that, “Women suffering from endometriosis often feel overwhelmed and hopeless, particularly if a treatment or incomplete surgical management failed to improve their pain. Other patients feel physical intimacy may never be possible due to their severe discomfort; these symptoms often are from deep infiltrating endometriosis and usually experience improvement with surgical management.”
There is a range of treatments available to help treat endometriosis and its symptoms. Your provider will discuss your symptoms and treatment options with you. Treatment at UT Health Austin is multidisciplinary and may include hormone therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy, and possibly surgery to resect the endometriosis. This approach to pelvic pain also searches for associated conditions affecting the bladder, bowels, and deep pelvic muscles that can all worsen endometriosis symptoms.
Dr. Christina Salazar, gynecologist with the Women’s Health Institute, adds, “Proper treatment of endometriosis can improve people’s quality of life significantly. We strongly believe that women should not have to endure it without relief. There are many effective options that can help lessen pain, and here we individualize the treatment plan to suit the goals of each patient.” The good news is that you do not have to live with the pain of endometriosis and you can get relief or help with infertility.