Endometriosis is a common gynecologic condition. It is a hormonally-driven disease which impacts 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, or an estimated 180 million women worldwide.
Although common, endometriosis often goes undiagnosed. Some health care providers are less familiar with the evaluation and treatment of endometriosis and may even be dismissive of the pain symptoms that women report. The medical community must work to improve our understanding of this condition.
What is Endometriosis?
During menstruation, endometrium, or the delicate tissue which lines the inner cavity of the uterus, is expelled from the vagina. Some of this tissue may implant and grow outside of the uterus, most commonly in the pelvis and abdomen. In rare cases, the tissue may grow as far away as the diaphragm and lungs. Endometrium growing outside of the uterus is called endometriosis.
Endometriosis may be asymptomatic in some women. In other women, symptoms may include pelvic and abdominal pain, bloating, and even infertility.
Signs and Symptoms
The most commonly reported symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain. Pain may occur during your period or between periods. For some women, the pain of endometriosis can be debilitating and interferes with their ability to complete regular activities. Other symptoms of endometriosis include pain during or after sex, painful urination, painful bowel movements, irregular vaginal bleeding, abdominal bloating, or fatigue.
Chronic pain can have a serious impact on your mental health and lifestyle. Individuals suffering with endometriosis may have to miss work or school and may also miss out on social gatherings that are important to them. Not every woman experiences endometriosis the same.
Relief and Treatment
Fortunately, endometriosis is a treatable condition. Treatment options include pain medication such as acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, and hormonal medications such as birth control. Stronger hormonal medications may be considered in women with severe pain that do not respond to first-line therapies.
There is also a role for surgery, both in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis. Minimally invasive surgery, such as laparoscopic and robotic surgery, is preferred due to improved visualization and reduced risks for patients. Surgery may be minor, aimed at diagnosing endometriosis and temporarily relieving symptoms.
It is important to find a surgeon who is trained in the latest minimally invasive techniques. For some women with severe disease who have completed their childbearing, hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus and ovaries, may also be considered.
Endometriosis is a common condition with proven treatment options. UPMC in North Central Pa. has access to highly trained physicians and surgeons, and the latest surgical technologies to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis. If you are experiencing pelvic pain or abnormal menstruation, the safest bet is to listen to your body and mention it to your health care provider.
Natasha R. Alligood-Percoco, MD, FACOG, MIGS, is a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon with UPMC OB/GYN and sees patients at the UPMC Health and Innovation Center, 740 High St., Suite 1004, Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Alligood-Percoco, call 570-321-3300. For more information, visit UPMC.com/OBGYNNCPA.