Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally lines the uterus –the endometrium– grows outside of the uterus. The lining can attach itself to other areas including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and sometimes the lining of the pelvis. As well as causing issues with fertility, this is often a painful condition, but did you know that the most common physical symptom is NOTHING? Meaning a vast majority of those with endometriosis go without noticing until an issue like infertility arrises.
It affects about 5 million American women and is especially common among women in their 30s and 40s.
With endometriosis, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would -thickening, breaking down and bleeding with each menstrual cycle. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped. When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions — abnormal bands of fibrous tissue that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other.
How does Endometriosis affect my Fertility and cause Infertility?
The main complication of endometriosis is impaired fertility. Approximately one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant.
For pregnancy to occur, an egg must be released from an ovary, travel through the neighboring fallopian tube, become fertilized by a sperm cell and attach itself to the uterine wall to begin development. Endometriosis can obstruct the tube and keep the egg and sperm from uniting. But the condition also seems to affect fertility in less-direct ways, such as damage to the sperm or egg.
Even so, many women with mild to moderate endometriosis can still conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. Doctors sometimes advise women with endometriosis not to delay having children because the condition may worsen with time. There is no known cause that can be directly linked to endometriosis, however there have been several theories including:
- Hereditary factors
- Retrograde menstruation (period travels backward through the fallopian tubes into the pelvis where they attach and grow)
- Immune disorders
For many women, endometriosis can interfere with various aspects of their lives. Besides infertility issues, other symptoms can include:
- heavy and/or irregular periods
- painful intercourse
- painful bowel movements
- urinary pain or difficulty
- abdominal pain
How is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
Endometriosis can only be definitively diagnosed using laparoscopy. Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure. While you’re under general anesthesia, your surgeon will make a tiny incision near your navel and insert a slender viewing instrument (laparoscope), looking for endometrial tissue outside the uterus. He or she may take samples of tissue (biopsy). Laparoscopy can provide information about the location, extent and size of the endometrial implants to help determine the best treatment options.
How is Endometriosis Treated?
Your surgeon may remove endometrial growths and scar tissue during your laparoscopy, improving your pain and chances of pregnancy.
Although there is no known cure for endometriosis, there are several treatment options, such as medications, that can be discussed with your healthcare practitioner.
Maya abdominal massage and acupuncture may also help by improving blood flow to the reproductive organs and alleviating pain by eliminating toxins in the system. Herbal formulas and dietary changes can also be beneficial when treating the pain associated with endometriosis. Yoga can help to control weight gain and bloating that goes hand in hand with endometriosis. Yoga’s poses help to increase blood flow to the reproductive system and help to stretch the muscles in the back.
Depending on its severity, patients with endometriosis may elect to proceed right to IUI or IVF. Although pregnancies do occur naturally in women with endometriosis, pregnancy rates are superior with IUI or IVF.