Endometriosis Symptoms and Treatment

The uterus (womb) is lined with special endometrial cells that during the second half of a woman's monthly cycle are prepared to accept any fertilized egg and allow it to grow into a baby. If no pregnancy occurs, these cells degenerate, break away from the inside of the uterus, and with the resultant bleeding are carried out of the body in the woman's period.

From the top of the uterus, a Fallopian tube leads out to each of the two ovaries. In a small number of unlucky women, the cells that normally go out during a period, may go into and through these Fallopian tubes. The cells are then in an abnormal position around the ovary on the outside of the uterus, or in the pelvic cavity, and they can attach to these tissues and start growing and spreading further. These are normal endometrial cells, and in no way are they cancerous or malignant, but because of their position in the body, they will cause considerable trouble to the patient. They will still respond to the woman's hormonal cycle every month, as these hormones pass through the blood stream to every cell in the body. As a result, these cells in abnormal positions, will bleed with every period, releasing blood in places where it can cause pain and other symptoms. The cells may also block the Fallopian tubes to cause infertility, irritate the bladder, or settle on the outside of the intestine to cause cramps and diarrhea.

A doctor will often suspect the diagnosis of endometriosis after hearing of a woman's symptoms and examining her internally. The condition can only be definitely diagnosed by examining a woman's pelvis by means of an operation or a laparoscopy. X-rays and blood tests are not particularly useful.

Laparoscopy requires a general anesthetic in most cases, and involves a small tube being put through the navel into the abdomen. Through this a doctor can see the spots of endometriosis in its abnormal positions. If the spots are easily accessible, a second tube may be put through the front of the abdomen, low down on one side. This can be used to pass a probe which will burn away the worst of the abnormal endometrial tissue. Other patients may require an open operation to remove large amounts of abnormal tissue. As a last resort, a hysterectomy may be performed.

Medical treatment is also available, but surgery is usually required as well in severe cases. For many years, hormones have been used to completely stop a woman's periods for 6 to 12 months. Many of the abnormally placed endometrial cells will die off during this time, curing the disease. In the last few years, an extremely expensive drug called Danocrine has been used to treat endometriosis with great success. Again this must be used for many months, and some patients develop uncomfortable side effects whilst using it.

Women with endometriosis can suffer terribly every month, and sometimes have pain through the month as well. If they are also infertile because of the disease, they will tolerate almost any treatment in order to be rid of this unusual but very distressing condition.

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