Endometriosis symptoms bring a lot of pain, agony and emotional distress. In fact, excessive period cramps or dysmenorrhea is usually a first sign of endometriosis.
It is estimated that Endometriosis symptoms affect 1 in 10 women and girls of the reproductive age. It is a growing concern of absenteeism and poor mental health amongst women, specifically during menstruation.
While we are still trying to figure out the cause and treatment of Endometriosis, one thing that you must know is that early intervention helps. This is because Endometriosis is progressive in nature.
That means, you need to address Endometriosis symptoms in early stages. This will help you to prevent the growth and spread of Endometrial tissues. And hence, avoid multiple health complications that Endometriosis brings.
In this post, we will learn about Endometriosis symptoms, 4 stages, causes and modern treatment approach for Endometriosis. Let’s get started!
What are the First Signs and Symptoms of Endometriosis?
The first signs of endometriosis are not always the same for all women. It actually depends on the growth and location of the endometrial tissue.
That’s why some women experience high intensity symptoms, while for others there aren’t any noticeable signs.
Here are the first signs of endometriosis that are often experienced by majority of the women. Any of these symptoms are a sign of normal menstrual cycle or how a woman’s body operates in general.
If you experience these signs and symptoms, do consult with your doctor and take action on your health condition.
1. Acute Pain
Growth of endometrial tissues lead to acute pain and cramping in the pelvic cavity. This pain usually radiates from lower back area to lower abdomen, thighs, and even to other body parts.
Pain may be present right before menstruation or continue during the whole cycle. Do note that pain progresses with Endometriosis, meaning the intensity of pain increases if there is more growth and spread of endometriosis.
- Pain in the Uterus
- Lower Back pain
- Pain in lower abdomen area or pelvic cavity
- Dyspareunia or painful intercourse
- Pain is experienced while passing urine or bowel movement
2. Digestive System Problems – Bloating, Constipation and Gas
One starts to experience digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea more often. The intensity of poor digestive health usually increases before and during menstruation.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Absence of appetite
- Bloating and gas
- Diarrhea or loose stools
3. Irregular Periods
Periods that do not come on time and when it happens, it brings lot of pain and excess bleeding. This is a sure tell-a-tale sign of Endometriosis.
However, that’s not it! All women are different and you may experience different symptoms. Irregular periods can be caused by a multitude of other factors and Endometriosis is one of them.
- Early or Frequent periods
- Long periods that last beyond 7 days
4. Heavy Bleeding during Menstruation
- Clotted blood flow during menstruation
- Heavy Periods or Menorrhagia
- Spotting or Bleeding in between periods
5. Inability to Conceive
Infertility and inability to conceive is commonly observed in Endometriosis. Infertile patients often have no painful symptoms.
Usually, endometriosis is only discovered in the course of the diagnostic work-up for infertility.
What Causes Endometriosis Symptoms?
The real cause of endometriosis is not certain yet. There are several theories such as retrograde menstruation (or back flow of menstrual blood), presence of endometrial tissues at birth and inflammation, and genetic factors. All of these theories point towards this fact that:
A combination of Genetic, Biological and Environmental factors work together to trigger the growth and spread of endometrial tissues.
1. Retrograde Menstruation
Retrograde menstruation means that menstrual flow starts to flow upwards rather than exiting through the vaginal canal. This is what happens:
- The endometrial tissues and menstrual blood enters the Fallopian tubes. It then attaches to the nearby organs in the abdomen, and grows like uterine endometrium.
- The menstrual debris and endometrial tissues can spread to other sites in the pelvic cavity or upper body through the Circulatory system and Lymphatic system.
- This causes growth and spread of the endometrial tissues to other body parts, often as far as the head.
2. Poor Immune Function
Usually immune system will remove this menstrual flow debris. But, when it doesn’t function properly, the endometrial tissues stay along and develop into endometriosis.
3. Hormone Imbalance
High estrogen levels lead to higher sensitivity of Endometrial tissues to the hormones. That’s why, when you are struggling with hormone imbalance, it makes you more prone to the uncontrolled growth of endometriosis.
4. Poor Diet and Lifestyle
Excessive consumption of Alcohol and Smoking predisposes women to conditions that support endometriosis. Additionally, when your diet is not good then you are more prone to develop nutritional deficiency and hormone imbalances.
5. Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Materials
Endocrine Disrupting Materials (EDC) such as BPA, Dioxins and chemicals in food and environment also creates possibility of endometriosis.
EDC often lead to high estrogen levels and hormone imbalances that further disrupt normal menstrual flow and immune function of a woman.
What are The Four Stages of Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a progressive disease. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, there are 4 stages of endometriosis depending on the severity of the symptoms:
1st stage (Minimal)
At this stage, the implants are superficial in nature. This means, they haven’t really attached or grown in any particular area. This is really early stage, at which one can prevent the implants from sticking and growing at one place.
2nd Stage (Mild)
At this stage, the implants have been placed at deeper level on one site. Or there may be multiple sites with implants.
3rd Stage (Moderate)
Typically at this stage a woman starts to exhibit a degree of endometriosis symptoms (apart from pain). This stage usually involves growth and spread of the endometrial tissues beyond the pelvic cavity.
4th Stage (Severe)
At this stage, one experiences many deep implants. There may be large endometrial tissues on one or both ovaries.
One may experience many dense adhesion. Or it may also happen that one has their rectum adhering to the back of the uterus. This leads to severe pain and chronic digestive issues.
Possible Locations of the Endometrial Tissues
- Anywhere outside the uterus
- Walls of the pelvic cavity
- Fallopian tube: It is frequently reported in patients after menarche (menstrual cycle begins for the first time)
- Gastrointestinal tract: It is estimated to occur in 12–37% of patients with endometriosis. Most common areas are small intestine (cecum and ileum), large intestine (colon) and appendix
- Abdominal wall
- Urinary bladder, ureters, and renal (kidneys)
- Lungs (rare)
- Lower extremities such as on the thigh (rare condition)
- Central Nervous System (rare condition)
- Cutaneous or under the skin, leading to skin lesions and uneven skin (rare condition)
Who is at the Risk of developing Endometriosis Symptoms?
1. Women with obstructive genital tract disease: This makes them prone to high backward menstrual flow.
2. Long duration of Periods and Short Menstrual Cycle: This makes women prone to attachment and progression of endometrial cells in pelvic cavity.
3. Hormone Imbalance and Excess Estrogen: This aggravates the problem of endometriosis as the cells become more sensitive to hormones in the blood.
4. Autoimmune disorders: Immune system is not able to destroy the abnormal endometrial tissues. They stay intact causing more inflammation.
5. Genetic Factors: If someone close in your family has Endometriosis, it makes you more prone to development of the same.
6. Age Group: Usually, the mean age of a woman at diagnosis of endometriosis is 25–29 years. However, it can also be present in adolescents and in elderly.
It has been observed that approximately half of women (below 20 years), who experience chronic pelvic pain have endometriosis. Also, about 5% of endometriosis cases are seen in postmenopausal women.
Endometriosis Health Complications
You should note that Endometriosis is a progressive disease. If not addressed in early stage, it can lead to health complications and may risk Infertility.
1. Spreads Fast and Far
If the endometrial tissues rupture, it can spread the cells to other areas in the abdominal cavity or in further body organs.
Endometriosis results in infertility in about 25-40% of women.
It is a common result of the progression of the disease.
3. Sticky Adhesion
Some women can develop “sticky” areas of endometrial tissue that can join the organs together.
This leads to malfunctioning of body organs, pain, and inflammation.
4. Affect the Bowels and Urinary System
Growth of endometrial tissue along the bladder or in the colon may restrict movement of the urine and bowels.
5. Emotional Distress
Excessive pain, inflammation, and heavy periods often affect the mental state of the patient. Endometriosis symptoms can be the leading cause of Depression, Anxiety, and Emotional Trauma experienced in the patients.
6. Development of Tumors
Although it is rare (<1% of cases), development of tumors is the most severe complication of endometriosis. It has been observed that in nearly 75% of tumors cases, the site is on the ovaries.
In ovaries, the implants result in the formation of chocolate cysts. Other sites are in pelvic cavity or gastrointestinal tract.
Endometriosis Treatment in Modern Medicine
There is no cure for endometriosis in modern medicine. Your treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the reason for which you got diagnosis.
Most of the time, these treatment options provide a patch-work to either control the symptoms artificially or by surgical removal of endometrial tissues.
Conservative surgery can be performed with laparoscopy or laparotomy. Usually, the success rate of surgery is high. However, endometriosis develops again in 28% of patients by 18 months after surgery.
Also, almost 40% patients experience recurrence within 9 years of treatment. Similarly, it has been observed that adhesion recur in 40–50% of patients.
Here are some current treatment options for Endometriosis
- Patients with infertility are usually treated surgically or with advanced reproductive techniques. Some of the techniques used are hormone therapy, hyper-stimulation and intrauterine insemination.
- Hormone therapy and birth control pills to relieve endometriosis symptoms such as period pain and pelvic pain.
- Removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) and or ovaries if the pain is severe. In less severe cases, one ovary may be retained.
It is clear that the modern medicine treatment approach may help you to relieve endometriosis symptoms in the short term.
However, for permanent relief from endometriosis symptoms you need to adopt an approach to remove the root cause. This is the only way to avoid multiple expensive and intrusive treatment rounds.
Do note that Endometriosis is a progressive and painful disease. But, you can prevent it by pursuing a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle. Act Early to Prevent Health Issues Later!
Check out Hormone Balance with Ayurveda, a holistic health programme. Receive personalized Ayurvedic treatment and step-by step guidance on diet and lifestyle to balance hormones and find relief from Endometriosis symptoms.
Now, we want to hear from you. Do write to us for any queries and feedback. We will get back to you the soonest. What has been your experience with Endometriosis treatment? What worked and what didn’t. Do share your thoughts and story with us.
Wishing you vibrant health!