Endometriosis, an often painful medical disorder, affects more than 200 million women worldwide. Nichole Mahnert, MD, a practicing OBGYN at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, shares some helpful information about its symptoms and available treatments.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a hormonal medical condition in which tissue from inside the uterus is found outside the uterus. The tissue is most commonly found on the uterus, ovaries and tissue lining the abdomen. The cause of this disorder is unknown.
What are the most common symptoms?
- Painful, heavy and irregular periods
- Pain with intercourse
- Ovarian cysts
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
The only way to truly diagnose endometriosis is through surgery with a biopsy, which is an examination of tissue. There is a lot we don’t know about endometriosis. For example, the stage of endometriosis does not correlate well with the amount of pain. A woman with stage 1 endometriosis (very little) can have severe pain, and a woman with stage 4 endometriosis—the most severe—may have no pelvic pain.
How is endometriosis treated?
It is important for providers to take a holistic approach to treatment, as women with endometriosis may also have other conditions and symptoms that are not caused by endometriosis but, nevertheless, are associated with the disorder.
The primary treatment for endometriosis is hormonal suppression of the menstrual cycle. There is also a role for surgical intervention in more serious cases. Other treatments focus on treating pelvic pain associated with other organ systems such as the muscles, nerves, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts.
What are a few examples of conditions and symptoms that are not caused by endometriosis, but associated with it?
Among women who have endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain, the pelvic pain may also be related to the GI tract, pelvic floor and abdominal wall muscles and nerves. We know that women with endometriosis and pain commonly have other conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and interstitial cystitis.
If a patient suspects she has endometriosis, are there steps she can take, or information she can give her doctor that may help with a diagnosis?
It is always a great idea to track your symptoms, so you can discuss this in more depth with your doctor. For example, keep track of when the pain started, if it was associated with any other events, life changes, injuries, etc. What makes the pain worse or better? Is the pain associated with GI or urinary symptoms?
Endometriosis can be a very challenging disorder to cope with, but with the right care, it doesn’t have to be. For more information and treatment options, visit your gynecologist.
Learn more about Banner – University Medicine Women’s Institute.