What Is Endometriosis?

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Do you know what endometriosis is?

If your answer is no, you’re not alone. Although it is a common disease affecting up to 10% of reproductive-age women and is the culprit in many cases of chronic pelvic pain, painful periods, and infertility, most people are largely unfamiliar with what it is and how this condition impacts women.

Endometriosis occurs when the cells that line the uterus migrate to other parts of the pelvic region, attaching where they don’t belong, which leads to a recurring cycle of bleeding and healing and the eventual development of scar tissue. The scar tissue can cause mild to severe pelvic pain before and during menstruation; pain during sex, urination, or bowel movements; and menstrual bleeding more than once a month. In some women, endometriosis causes no symptoms at all and they may be first diagnosed when they have trouble getting pregnant. It’s most often seen in women in their 30s and 40s, but it can occur in women of any age. Women who have never had children and those who have a mother, sister, or daughter with endometriosis may be at increased risk.

Endometriosis can only be diagnosed through surgery, so if you have symptoms or risk factors, talk to your doctor. Laparascopy—a surgical procedure that uses a lighted scope to view the pelvic organs—is often used to detect endometriosis. If scar tissue is found, it can often be removed during the procedure. Your doctor may also recommend medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for pain relief or prescribe birth control pills to control the menstrual cycle and shrink areas of endometriosis. In severe cases, there are other medications that may be potentially beneficial, or hysterectomy may be an option.

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