What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue, the tissue that lines the uterus and is shed during menstruation, grows outside of the uterus - on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the ligaments that support the uterus, and other organs in the pelvic cavity. Other possible sites of endometriosis include the bladder, bowel and vagina; however, endometriosis can occur in other places in the body.

In some instances, pelvic scarring and adhesions may occur. These, in turn, may prevent a woman from being able to become pregnant.

Like the lining of the uterus, areas of endometriosis respond to the hormones of the menstrual cycle. The endometrial areas build up tissue each month, then break down and bleed during menstruation. However, when endometrial growths outside the uterus bleed, they can irritate the body. The bleeding produced by the endometrial growths is the same blood and tissue that is produced during a normal menstrual flow. Your body reacts to this bleeding by surrounding the blood and tissue with scar tissue.

The buildup of scar tissue in the pelvic cavity is what causes many women with endometriosis to experience chronic pelvic pain. However, the amount of pain a woman may experience is not necessarily related to the extent of her endometrial growths. Some women with moderate to severe endometriosis have no pain, while others with minimal endometriosis experience severe pain. That is why an accurate diagnosis of the disease is so difficult.

What causes endometriosis?

The exact cause of endometriosis remains unclear, but medical researchers continue to investigate the cause of the disease and hope such research will eventually lead to a cure. Endometriosis can lead to problems such as chronic pelvic pain, pain during sexual intercourse, painful menstrual discomfort, and infertility.

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

Endometriosis is often diagnosed through a procedure called laparoscopy. During this minor surgical procedure, a slender, light-transmitting tube is inserted into your abdomen. This procedure enables your physician to examine the condition of your abdominal organs and check the size and extent of endometrial growths.

A growing number of physicians are relying on a patient's symptoms, history, and clinical work-up to diagnose endometriosis. Often this is all a physician needs to make a clinical diagnosis and begin treatment - without laparoscopic surgery.

Something that can help your physician make a diagnosis is an accurate patient history. A pain journal is a tool a woman can use to record symptoms and typically has 3 parts:

  1. A pain map with an outline of a woman's body on which you mark the areas where you feel pain
  2. A calendar
  3. A pain severity scale

For an example of a pain journal you can print and use, visit www.endofacts.com and go to the "Support" section to find the pain journal.