While endometriosis is a common condition affecting up to 1 in 10 American women, it is complex and often misunderstood. Endometriosis occurs when tissue, similar to the tissue that normally lines the uterus – called the endometrium – begins to grow elsewhere in the body. These growths can cause pain, scarring, and in some cases, infertility.
One study shows that it can take up to seven years for a woman to be diagnosed with endometriosis because symptoms can mimic other common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or pelvic inflammatory disease. And misconceptions about the disease, including the following five myths, can prevent some women from seeking help. Talk to your health care team if you are concerned about painful periods or other possible symptoms of endometriosis, such as: B. Long-lasting pain in the lower back or pelvis.
5 Myths – and the Facts – About Endometriosis
Myth 1: Symptoms are just having a hard time. Women with endometriosis sometimes assume their symptoms are a normal part of menstruation, and when they seek help they are sometimes dismissed as overreacting to normal menstrual symptoms. In fact, there is something far more serious ahead than convulsions. One theory is that the pain occurs because even if there is endometrial-like tissue outside the uterus, it continues to respond to hormonal signals and produce chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.
As the menstrual cycle progresses, this endometrial-like tissue thickens and eventually bleeds. Unlike endometrial tissue in the uterus, which drains through the vagina every month, blood from displaced tissue has nowhere to go. Instead, it collects near the affected organs and tissues, irritating and inflaming them. The result is pain and sometimes the development of scar tissue, which can form a network and fuse organs. This can cause pain when moving or engaging in sexual activity.
Myth 2: Endometriosis only affects the pelvic region. The most common places for endometriosis to grow are in the pelvis, e.g. B. on the outer surface of the uterus, bladder and fallopian tubes. However, endometriosis can occur anywhere in the body. For example, endometrial-like tissue has rarely been found in the lungs.
Myth 3: Endometriosis is always painful. Not everyone with endometriosis is in pain. It is not uncommon for a woman to find out that she has endometriosis after examining why she is having trouble getting pregnant. Endometriosis is the leading cause of infertility in the United States. The condition also increases the chances of miscarriage and other problems in pregnancy. The good news, however, is that the vast majority of women with endometriosis can ultimately have a baby.
Myth 4: Endometriosis can be prevented. There is no clearly understood cause of endometriosis, so no way is currently known to prevent it. Taking certain steps to lower the levels of estrogen in the body can reduce your risk, according to the US Department of Health. Estrogen can encourage endometriosis to grow and make symptoms worse. You can lower your estrogen levels by using a contraceptive method with lower estrogen levels, losing weight if you are overweight, and exercising regularly.
Myth 5: Endometriosis always improves after menopause. Although endometriosis symptoms most commonly occur during menstruation, in some women they hold up well after the monthly cycles have ended. Even after a woman goes through menopause, the ovaries continue to produce low levels of estrogen. Endometriosis growth can continue to respond to the hormone and cause pain. While endometriosis symptoms improve in many women, menopause does not bring relief to all. Some women who have gone through menopause may opt for surgery to remove endometriosis implants or adhesions, or even hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). However, these procedures are not always successful in controlling pain. Hormone therapies also seem to be less effective in postmenopausal women.
For information on managing endometriosis pain, see this post on the Harvard Health Blog.