Endometriosis is a reproductive disease affecting approximately 176 million women and girls worldwide – 8.5 million in North America alone. With the potential to cause severe pelvic pain, infertility and a myriad of physical, sexual, emotional, academic, quality of life and career issues, and with associated costs soaring near $22 billion annually, endometriosis has proven it is more than just “killer cramps."
Qualitative studies indicate that a large number of women and girls with endometriosis remain under-diagnosed, ineffectively treated and isolated as a result of the disease. In contrast to this stark picture painted of the disease, however, the profound symptoms caused by endometriosis are actually quite treatable. With early diagnosis and timely intervention, there is help – and hope!
What Is Endometriosis?
During the normal menses or period, the female body naturally sheds the endometrium – the clinical term for the lining of the uterus. In women and girls with endometriosis, however, some of this menstrual fluid leaks back into the body and begins to implant in the surrounding areas. This aberrant tissue still responds to hormonal commands and grows, menstruates and sheds. Unlike normal endometrium, however, these implants have no way of exiting the body and subsequently give rise to the disease.
The process results in internal bleeding, development of debris-filled cysts known as endometriomas, painful inflammation, production of irritating enzymes, and formation of scar tissue and adhesions (fibrous bands of dense tissue). These can lead to the “binding” or twisting of organs.
Commonly referred to as lesions, nodules or implants, endometriosis typically develops on the pelvic structures including the bladder, bowel, intestines, ovaries, fallopian tubes and elsewhere in the abdominal cavity region.
Though the pelvis is the most common site for endometriosis, the disease has also been diagnosed in other locations such as the diaphragm, lungs and other areas far outside the abdominopelvic region.