What is Endometriosis? Symptoms, Causes, and How to Treat It

What is Endometriosis? Symptoms, Causes, and How to Treat It

You know how you grow a “special” lining in your uterus that is mostly made of blood and nutrients every month, and then after a month it takes a hike?  Well, this is known as your “endometrial lining.”  It is supposed to grow there month after month. (And when we are lucky. . . sometimes not for 9 months!)  It is NOT, however, supposed to grow anywhere else but inside our uterus.  But alas, none of our bodies work perfectly -- so this does happen. Researchers estimate at least 11% of women in the United States have endometriosis.

What is Endometriosis? How and Why Does It Happen?

Well first the “why," and the answer is: who the heck knows? Unfortunately, it just does.  It is nothing you did; you were most likely born this way.  “How” is a little easier to answer.  There is a pathway -- so to speak -- between your uterus and your abdominal cavity, and specifically this is your fallopian tubes.  This is the same path the egg takes each month in hopes of getting fertilized. But the egg travels towards the uterus.  It's possible to have lining that escapes and heads out the tubes into the abdominal cavity, and it will land wherever it wants to (outside of the intestines, on the bladder, outside of the uterus -- and just anywhere in the general vicinity).  And because it is the same tissue as what is in the uterus, it will respond to your hormones every month and grow and shed, and grow and shed.  But those little “baseline” endometrial cells never leave.  

Endometriosis: Symptoms

How Do I Know if I Have Endometriosis?

First, let’s be clear: you can only truly diagnose endometriosis by having a procedure done (i.e., a laparoscopy).  You will need a medical provider to actually look with a special scope into your abdominal cavity so they can look for the deposits I mentioned above.  You cannot see these with an ultrasound or find them by a simple physical exam.  Your provider will most likely stage your endometriosis as well, once completing the procedure.  There are 4 stages of increasing severity, with 1 being “bad” to 4 being “super duper bad.”  You get it.

Now, you can have a nice doctor “laser off the deposits,” and you will definitely get some relief, but sadly it will eventually come back.  That being said, many gals will tell you they most certainly have it without a formal diagnosis -- simply because they have so much pain monthly -- and they are probably right.  Most often you experience pain….usually bad pain.  Sometimes it is even debilitating, where women can’t go anywhere but the couch and live on a heating pad.  Specifically, you will most likely have some or all of the following:

  • Excessive and painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea)
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements
  • Struggle with getting pregnant

There are medications as well that women can take, and they usually involve suppressing your periods either a little (birth control pills) or all together (injectable medications and/or implants).  But obviously, this doesn’t work for women trying to get pregnant. 

What Happens if Endometriosis is Left Untreated?

Almost anyone who suffers from endometriosis would tell you they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy (much more applicable to those with stages 3 and 4).   That being said, endometriosis isn’t something that directly causes you ill health, but is rather something you have to live with and accept.  However, it can impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant in a small percent of cases. 

On the physical side of things, endometriosis can be so bad in the abdomen that it reduces blood flow to the ovary or causes distortion of the ovaries’ location. There is also the cellular side of things, specifically the immune system;  I worked for a physician who was a big believer (most docs are not) in the fact that the immune system was impacted by endometriosis.  Specifically, it is believed that the immune system kind of goes into overdrive because of the out-of-place endometrial tissue in the abdomen, and this often will not allow for normal implantation of an embryo into the uterine cavity.  Often recurrent miscarriages are seen in patients like this.  If you suffer from recurrent miscarriages or any of the mentioned symptoms, it's important to consult with your fertility specialist to consider options and decide the path that's best for you.

However, most often the endometrial patient isn’t impacted by this and is plenty fertile.  In these cases using ovulation tests with the Premom ovulation tracker app can help you find your ovulation day and peak fertility more easily, so you can time intercourse more accurately, giving you your best chance of conceiving more quickly.

On that note. . . let’s make some babies!