Infertility is one of the most notorious endometriosis symptoms, but there are others that can give you a hint of this condition as well.
You probably know what endometriosis is, but here's a quick reminder just in case you don't. The term endometriosis refers to the disorder in which the tissue that normally forms the inner lining of your uterus grows outside the womb, spreading to different organs and areas of the body such as the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, bowels and bladder. Endometriosis currently affects around two million women in the UK, especially those who are between 25 and 40 years old.
Do you want to learn more interesting information regarding what causes endometriosis and ways to treat it? If so, have a look at the following post.
Types of endometriosis
There are two types of endometriosis, depending on where the endometrial tissue is found:
- Outer endometriosis: it's the kind in which the endometrium grows outside the uterus, reaching any part of the body, including intestines and lungs. This type is the one that tends to cause more problems.
- Adenomyosis or inner endometriosis: as its name implies, it happens when the tissue is located in the myometrium, the middle layer of the uterine wall. Most times, it doesn't cause any symptoms.
What causes endometriosis?
Although research in the field of endometriosis hasn't provided clear answers to this question, there are theories that aim at different reasons. The most likely one may be having a retrograde menstruation, which takes place when the menstrual blood flows back into the pelvic area, instead of out of the body. This blood flow carries endometrial cells that end up getting stuck to the pelvic organs, where they grow and thicken. Another possible cause is related to surgical incisions, like the ones resulting from C-sections and hysterectomies, since endometrial cells are thought to attach to such scars.
You may also develop endometriosis due to an immune system disorder that may keep your body from destroying the endometrial tissue formed outside the womb.
Around 20 to 30% of women with endometriosis don't show any symptoms, but those who do have to cope with painful and unpleasant ones. These are the most characteristic endometriosis symptoms:
- Painful periods: also known as dismenorrhea, it's a kind of period that involves pelvic pain, lower back pain and abdominal cramping. The pain can strike even before menstruation begins and last for several days.
- Pain while having sex: endometriosis can sometimes cause pain during or after having intercourse (dyspareunia).
- Heavy bleedings between periods: dealing with bleedings between periods is another one of the endometriosis symptoms. The bleeding could occasionally be heavy and alarming.
- Discomfort when using the toilet: it's pretty common for women with endometriosis to experience some pain when having bowel movements and peeing, especially during menstruation.
- Infertility: many women find out they have endometriosis when trying to seek treatment for getting pregnant, as infertility is associated with it. But even if infertility is one of the endometriosis symptoms, you can suffer this condition and still succeed in having a baby. You can read more about this in our article about endometriosis and pregnancy.
- Blood in your poo: along with pain, you may also bleed from your rectum and pass bloody stool.
- Coughing blood: if you happen to have endometrial tissue in your lungs, you may cough blood, though among all the endometriosis symptoms, this is the rarest.
Endometriosis symptoms: Diagnosing the disease
As there are a few endometriosis symptoms, this condition can be easily mistaken for others, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or ovarian cysts. Any of such symptoms make endometriosis harder to diagnose, so expect your GP to refer you to a gynaecologist, who will mainly ask you about your periods, sexual activity and symptoms. You may also undergo an internal pelvic exam or an ultrasound scan that could allow the doctor to check for cysts in your ovaries, among other elements.
However, the most reliable procedure to confirm endometriosis is a laparoscopy, an operation that consists in passing a thin tube with a camera attached to its end into your body, so that the doctor can obtain images from it. Laparoscopy requires general anaesthesia to be carried out, since you'll get a surgical cut in the belly to pass the tube through. There are times when you may have a biopsy, tissue taken, to have it tested in a lab.
How is endometriosis treated?
Up to these days, scientists haven't found a cure for endometriosis. Yet, this condition can be managed with medication, first, or surgical procedures, as a last resort. Considering this, the typical endometriosis treatment currently involves painkillers and hormone therapies, which should help you cope with the symptoms. When these options don't work out, doctors may recommend surgery (removing endometrial tissue) to reduce the pain and increase your fertility.
Endometriosis can be hard to cope with. Not only is it a chronic condition, but it can also affect your chances of getting pregnant, not to mention the physical pain that it may cause you. If you are diagnosed with it, you may be down for a while and need some professional advice. You can contact charities like Endometriosis UK for additional support.
Endometriosis symptoms: Alternative remedies
If you haven't got successful results in improving endometriosis symptoms from medical treatment, you can try alternative measures based on home remedies and changes in your lifestyle. For example, you should consider:
- Having warm baths or using a heating pad, which can help soothe cramping (one of the endometriosis symptoms) and relax pelvic muscles.
- Being active or working out regularly. It may help ease the pain.
- Having acupuncture sessions, which is thought to improve the symptoms as well, though its effectiveness has raised some doubts.
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, which can come in handy to deal with discomfort while waiting for the medical treatment to start.
What effects does it have on infertility?
Up to 50% of infertile women have endometriosis, so that's how much impact this condition can have on your reproductive chances. Also, endometriosis is associated with preterm labour and other complications, like haemorrhages during pregnancy. Without trying to disregard this information, you should also know that endometriosis isn't a synonym of infertility. There are plenty of women who have it and yet are able to conceive, go through normal pregnancies and welcome healthy babies into life. Also, there are surgical procedures that are proven to increase your odds of having a successful pregnancy by removing endometrial tissue.
Dealing with endometriosis symptoms can be tough, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. Yes, in the worst-case scenario you won't be able to have children, which can be hard to accept, but you can't give up in the first instance. It's time to be strong and remember that there are ways to treat it with promising success rates.