Is It Just Menstrual Cramps?
Many women have common menstrual cramps. Endometriosis is another condition that can present as severe menstrual cramps. Hence, it’s often overlooked. Endometriosis is a condition where cells from the lining of the womb are found outside the womb. Common symptoms can be painful and heavy menses, painful intercourse, lower abdominal pain, difficulty getting pregnant, painful bowel and bladder issues. It’s important to be aware of the condition and consult a doctor early, so that treatment can be initiated to help manage or reduce the symptoms and potential complications.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where cells from the lining of the womb are found outside the womb, usually in areas such as on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissues lining the pelvis.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
The symptoms of endometriosis may vary. Some women may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may present with more severe symptoms such as pelvic pain and dysmenorrhea.
Common symptoms associated with endometriosis include:
- Painful and heavy menstruation (also known as dysmenorrhea)
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse (or dyspareunia)
- Lower abdominal pain or pelvic pain
- Infertility or difficulties getting pregnant
- Painful bowel and bladder issues (with or without abnormal bleeding)
What are the complications of endometriosis?
If left untreated, endometriosis may lead to potential complications including:
Impaired fertility: some women with endometriosis may have difficulty getting pregnant. The longer you live with the condition, the greater the potential damage to your fallopian tubes. As such, women with endometriosis should not delay having children
Emotional distress: recurring pain associated with endometriosis may lead to depression, irritability, anxiety, anger, and feelings of helplessness
What are the risk factors of endometriosis?
- Not having given birth before
- Having a family history of the condition, especially among your mother and sisters
- Anatomical abnormalities, such as a blocked vagina or an imperforate hymen that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow
- Being Asian or white
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Endometriosis is commonly diagnosed through:
- A detailed assessment of your medical history and pelvic examination
- Blood tests for a protein called CA 125, although your CA-125 level is not specific to endometriosis
An ultrasound scan to identify if there is an endometrial cyst (also known as a chocolate cyst) in your ovaries. A normal scan does not rule out endometriosis
- A laparoscopy, which is often seen as the gold standard for the diagnosis of endometriosis as it allows the gynecologist to see the pelvic organs clearly and definitively diagnose endometriosis
How to treat endometriosis?
While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are treatment options that can help manage or reduce your symptoms and potential complications. These include:
- Pain relief: pain-relieving drugs that reduce inflammation and help to ease pain associated with endometriosis
- Hormonal treatment: hormonal treatment aims to stop or reduce ovulation (the release of an egg) so as to encourage the endometriosis to shrink or disappear
- Non-hormonal treatment: hormonal progestogens or testosterone derivatives; GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonists
Surgery: 1) Laparoscopic surgery, where a gynecologist removes patches of endometriosis by destroying them or cutting them out by means of a keyhole surgery, also known as minimally-invasive surgery; 2) Laparotomy, which destroys or removes endometriotic deposits in the abdomen in cases of severe endometriosis.