is a gynecological disease where the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus on the surfaces of pelvic and abdominal organs. Most often endometriosis occurs on or under the ovaries, behind the uterus, or on the bowels and bladder. The most common symptoms of endometriosis are pain in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvic areas. Pain may be associated with menstrual cramps or may be constant. Other symptoms of endometriosis include infertility, pain during or after sex, intestinal pain, painful bowel movements or urination during menstrual periods, heavy menstrual periods, premenstrual spotting, or bleeding between periods. You are not alone in your late diagnosis – according to the Endometriosis Research Center
, it takes nine years on average for a woman to be diagnosed with endometriosis after the onset of her symptoms, during which time she is likely to visit five or more doctors in search of treatment for her pain.
Treatment and pain management options for endometriosis vary widely in their invasiveness. It is important for you to evaluate the severity of your individual symptoms before deciding on the appropriate treatment method for you.
For mild pain
, try using over-the-counter NSAID pain medications and applying a heating pad to affected areas. Simple lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and engaging in relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation may also be effective in relieving the pain associated with endometriosis. Some studies
have also shown that acupuncture might be an effective treatment option.
Hormone treatments are another widely used treatment for endometriosis that you should consider before looking into more invasive surgical options. Using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) will regulate the growth of the tissue that lines the uterus and can also decrease your menstrual flow, giving you some relief from your symptoms. This therapy works for as long as you continue to take the pills. Some women will even take multiple packs in a row, skipping the placebo pills, in order to prevent their period from occurring at all and thus further reducing endometriosis-related symptoms. Using a birth control patch or vaginal ring will produce the same symptom-reducing effects as oral contraceptives.
A less invasive surgical alternative to hysterectomy, known as operative laparoscopy, can typically be done on an outpatient basis to remove endometrial growths and adhesions. During a laparoscopy, the surgeon will make a small cut in the abdomen and will examine areas of endometriosis with a viewing instrument. Then the surgeon may remove some of the areas of endometriosis growth through a process called excising (removing by cutting away with a scalpel) or may use intense heat to destroy areas of endometriosis and then seal the blood vessels through a process called cauterization.
If you are considering having a hysterectomy to treat your endometriosis, it is important that you remember that even having a hysterectomy does not guarantee that you are “cured” of endometriosis—there is a chance that endometriosis will recur even after hysterectomy. I urge you to visit the NWHN’s Hysterectomy Fact Sheet
to review all of the risks and complications involved with this life-changing surgical procedure before considering hysterectomy. We at the National Women’s Health Network are very critical of physicians who do not explore other, less invasive treatment options first before resorting to hysterectomy.
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