What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease that usually affects only women. The women who suffer from endometriosis experience a multitude of symptoms including fatigue, pelvic pain of differing severity, heavy menstrual periods, painful sexual intercourse, lower back pain, painful bowel movements and urination, abdominal bloating, and infertility. Endometriosis occurs when the endometrial cells that normally line the uterus are found outside the uterus in the abdominal cavity. These endometrial cells can implant on any of the reproductive and major organs of the abdominal cavity including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, rectum, small and large intestines and the colon. Although it rarely happens endometriosis can also find its way to the lungs, skin and inside the vagina and bladder. Because endometrial tissue is the same as that found inside the uterus it reacts to a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle the same way. As a woman’s hormones change during the month the lining of the uterus builds up with blood and other nutrient rich tissue, creating an inviting home for a fertilized egg. The endometrial tissue implanted outside the uterus responds to the monthly hormonal change in the same way. But unlike the tissue lining the uterus which gets flushed out of the vagina each month during a woman’s period the blood and tissue of endometriosis has no where to go. This blood and tissue inside the pelvic cavity causes irritation, inflammation and scar tissue. The endometrial cells themselves will also grow larger and expand within the abdomen, causing the symptoms to worsen over time. The cause or source of endometriosis is unknown. There have been many theories espoused as to the cause of this condition, but scientific research has failed to prove or disprove any of them. The leading theories as to the cause of endometriosis include: 1. Retrograde Menstruation: During menstruation some of the endometrial tissue “back-flows” through the fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. This could account for how the endometrial tissue gets into the pelvic cavity but research has also shown that 90% of all women experience this retrograde flow and the majority of them do not develop endometriosis. 2. Genetically Inherited: Endometriosis is known to run in families. In fact if a woman is 6 times more at risk of getting this condition if her mother or sister has it. 3. Autoimmune Diseases: Many women who have endometriosis also show some sort of immune system dysfunction. In most cases a healthy immune system will find and destroy endometrial cells growing outside the uterus. 4. Xenoestrogens: Endometriosis is a relatively new disorder. Up until 50 to 100 years ago there were very few documented cases of endometriosis. With the coming of the industrial/technical age it is becoming more and more common. Many link this to the plastic and chemical industries, more specifically plastics and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These plastics and chemicals release large amounts of Xenoestrogens into the environment, resulting in what is now called estrogen dominance. Research has shown that endometriosis is estrogen dependent and most treatments involve trying to lower a women’s estrogen level. For any women or young girl who feels they have endometriosis it is important that they talk to their gynecologist about this disease. At this time there is no cure but any gynecologist experienced in the diagnosing and treatment of endometriosis can help formulate a treatment plan that will minimize the endometrial growths and the painful symptoms that go along with them.