Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects millions of women and girls throughout the world. It is a painful condition wherein the endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, attaches itself to areas outside the uterus creating lesions.
Lesions may form in many areas of the body, but some of the more common growths occur on the exterior of the uterus, as well as on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Other areas include the supporting structures of the uterus, the pelvic cavity lining, the cervix, the vaginal cavity, and the bladder. While lesions can also affect the exterior folds of the vagina and the perineum -- the muscle and tissue dense area between the vagina and the rectum -- growths in these sites are less common.
Endometriosis causes moderate to severe pain, due to the fact that lesions are in essence, sites of internal bleeding. These areas react to the hormonal changes directly associated with a woman's monthly cycle.
In much the same way as the uterus lining breaks down each month, endometrial lesions also break down. The difference is, as the uterus sheds its lining, blood and tissue are allowed to be flushed from the body through the vagina. On the other hand, there is no outlet for tissue and blood shed by endometrial growths.
Not only do these lesions cause pain, but they can also cause cysts and scar tissue to develop, which may affect fertility.
Symptoms may include heavier and more painful periods, spotting between periods, and tenderness of the abdomen during ovulation. Many women also experience painful urination and bowel movements during menstruation, or pain during intercourse. Some suffer from an inability to fight off infection and others develop allergies. These discomforts are frequently accompanied by fatigue and irritability. The cause is unknown, but studies indicate that the disease may be genetic.
Treatment options for endometriosis are designed to meet the patient's specific needs. Options include pain relievers, both over-the-counter preparations and prescription medicines. Hormone therapy, usually in the form of a modified birth control pill regimen, is also frequently prescribed. Minor surgery in which layers of the lesions are removed may improve the condition. In some instances major surgery, including hysterectomy is necessary; hysterectomy, however, may not be able to eradicate endometriosis completely, since lesions can develop in other areas of the body.