February 22, 2013
Endometriosis Awareness Month Starts March 1st
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
March may be known as the month of St. Patrick´s Day and the luck of the Irish, but it also has important health awareness days, as well. In particular, during the month, there is increased awareness and promotion about endometriosis. Here are a few tidbits about endometriosis to clarify what the disease is all about.
What is endometriosis?
Often stigmatized as merely “killer cramps,” endometriosis is a poorly-understood disease characterized by pelvic pain, painful menstruation, infertility and pregnancy loss, pain with sexual activity, gastrointestinal and urinary tract difficulties and more. Primarily affecting the abdominopelvic organs, endometriosis is also sometimes found in locations like the lungs or diaphragm. The disease may also be linked to other painful concerns including autoimmune disorders, Interstitial Cystitis, Pudendal Neuralgia, and rarely, certain malignancies.
Endometriosis is tissue that somewhat resembles the lining of the uterus (endometrium), found outside the womb where it doesn´t belong. This tissue is not identical to normal endometrium, which is shed during menstruation. The disease often results in severe, debilitating and even chronic pain, as well as sexual dysfunction and impairment of the reproductive, bowels, bladder and nearby organs. Surgical confirmation is required for accurate diagnosis, though symptoms may be predictive.
What symptoms are related to endometriosis?
According to the World Endometriosis Research Foundation, the illness affects an estimated 176 million women and girls — one in ten during their reproductive years, which begins at the start of having a period and ends at the start of menopause. However, even with these numbers, the lack of awareness is one of the reasons why there is delayed diagnosis of the disease.
“Even now, hundreds of years after it was first described in the medical literature, endometriosis remains poorly understood, under-diagnosed and inadequately managed - despite remaining one of the leading causes of hysterectomy, infertility and pelvic pain in women and girls around the world,” commented Michelle E. Marvel, the Executive Director of the ERC, in a prepared statement. “The average delay in diagnosis still hovers around a decade, and patients are often told their symptoms are ℠normal´ or part of ℠being a woman´.”
They note there are a number of common symptoms such as significant menstrual pain, pelvic pain at any given moment during the menstrual cycle, pain related to bowel or urinary disorders, pain during intercourse or any sexual activity, infertility, and pregnancy loss. The cause of endometriosis is still unclear, but it cannot be sexually transmitted and is not contagious.
According to the Center for Endometriosis Care (CEC), laparoscopy is the only way of diagnosing the disease. In the past, diagnosis of endometriosis has been difficult as there are other conditions with similar symptoms.
Though definitive causes remain under debate, recent data implies that metaplasia, genetics, stem cell pathophysiology or possible immune dysfunction may play an important role. The disease can affect a woman or girl from any race or socioeconomic background, with symptoms appearing in adolescence and ranging past menopause.
What treatments are available for those suffering from endometriosis?
There is no known cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments to help alleviate the symptoms and boost a patient´s quality of life. The solution is to speak to a doctor to find out the right treatment for the individuals. Treatments include surgery, hormonal therapy, oral contraceptives, painkillers, and gonadotropin-release hormone analogue (gnRH analogue).
“It is not unusual for a woman or girl to undergo repeat, failed surgeries and ineffective hormonal and medical therapies” said Heather C. Guidone, the Surgical Program Director of the Center for Endometriosis Care and an ERC Executive Board Member. “Too often, emphasis is placed on “treating” infertility and symptom management, versus quality surgery to actually remove the disease,” said Guidone. “It´s imperative that early and effective intervention are offered to any woman or girl who may be suffering in order to prevent long-term effects and negative impact,” she said. “There are valid treatments, particularly Laparoendoscopic Excision (LAPEX), which can drastically improve the quality of life of those affected; this is not a hopeless illness.”