What is Endometriosis?Endometriosis is a painful reproductive disorder that affects 176 million women worldwide. The economic impact of Endometriosis is staggering: businesses lose billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and work time because of the disease. A leading cause of infertility and chronic pelvic pain, Endometriosis has also been linked to other health concerns, such as certain autoimmune diseases, fibroids, Adenomyosis, Interstitial Cystitis and even certain malignancies.
During normal menstruation, the female body naturally sheds the endometrium (the clinical term for the lining of the uterus). In some women and girls, however, these menstrual fluids leak back into the body and implant in areas outside of the womb. As the woman’s hormones change throughout her cycle, this aberrant tissue responds to hormonal fluctuations and grows, menstruates and sheds. Unlike normal endometrium, these implants have no way exiting the body and subsequently give rise to Endometriosis.
The disease process results in internal bleeding, degeneration of blood and tissue shed from the growths, inflammation of the surrounding areas, expression of irritating enzymes, interference with bowel, bladder, intestines and other areas of the pelvic cavity, and the formation of scar tissue and adhesions (fibrous bands of dense tissue). These can lead to the “binding” or twisting of organs, causing significant pain. Chronic pelvic pain, bowel or urinary disorders, painful intercourse and infertility are all common with Endometriosis.
Where does Endometriosis occur?
Often referred to as lesions, nodules or implants, Endometriosis typically develops on the pelvic structures including the bladder, bowel, intestines, top of the vagina (sometimes called the “cul-de-sac” or "Pouch of Douglas"), ovaries, fallopian tubes, and elsewhere in the abdominopelvic region. Less commonly, Endometriosis can be found in extrapelvic regions like the diaphragm and even the lungs. The disease has even been documented in such remote locations as the brain and surprisingly, the gastrocnemius (the muscle which comprises the back part of the lower leg and calf).
What Causes Endometriosis
While definitive causes remain under debate, studies indicate that in addition to genetics, immune dysfunction, metaplasia (a cell’s ability to transform itself into another type of cell), and exposure to environmental toxicants like dioxin may all be contributing factors. Anyone can develop Endometriosis, but some patients may be genetically predisposed. For example, a woman with a mother or sister with the disease is six times more likely to have Endometriosis herself.
Those who begin their period at an early age, experience heavy periods, have periods that last more than seven days, and/or short monthly cycles (27 days or less) may also be at an increased risk. Nonetheless, no single theory explains the development of Endometriosis in all patients; more likely, an amalgamation of several mechanisms is involved.