Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Learn about endometriosis

Published:Monday | March 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition that affects a large number of Jamaican women. Severe debilitating pain before and during their menstrual cycle and difficulty becoming pregnant are just a few of the symptoms women suffering from endometriosis experience.

Having an understanding of this condition can help to make your life easier or help you make another woman's life easier.

Gynaecologist Dr Kiri-an Bridgewater (who works at multiple health centres, including the Gynae Associates), explains that endometriosis is a condition in which layers of cells that normally grows inside of the womb begin to grow in other areas of the body. These growths are usually found in the pelvis area, such as the fallopian tubes, on the ovaries, between the womb and rectum, and the intestines.

"This, however, can occur in the umbilicus (navel), the lungs and even the brain. Fortunately, these other locations are less common," Dr Bridgewater told Flair. She notes that research has proven that hormones, especially oestrogen, stimulate the growth of these cells outside of the womb. Other causes of the condition include changes in a woman's immune system, "back flow of menstrual blood through the fallopian tube and into the abdomen", and genetics.

Who is at risk?

All women between the ages of 15 and 44 are vulnerable to endometriosis - women of reproductive age who produce more oestrogen than women experiencing menopause or young girls.

While there is no exception to endometriosis occurring in young girls, it does not mean that menopausal women are immune to the condition. "Menopausal women have much lower levels of hormones, and therefore are far less likely to be affected by endometriosis. But, if they are taking hormones for another reason, they become susceptible," she explained. It is crucial that women who experience these symptoms seek medical care to accurately assess and treat them. These symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, and could be mistaken or linked to pelvic inflammatory disease which causes pain during sex, and uterine fibroid which causes pelvic pain and menstrual changes.

There are also claims that several non-communicable diseases are linked to women with endometriosis and their families. Asthma, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer are only a few. "There is still a lot of research being done to determine if these are true associations," notes Bridgewater.

She continued, "We have found that women with endometriosis are at a higher risk of certain types of ovarian cancer than women without the disease. However, the others are still under investigation," Bridgewater concluded.

A woman suffering from endometriosis may experience severe pelvic pain, mostly before and during menstruation. Pain during sexual intercourse, heavy menstrual flow, and difficulties getting pregnant.

Many women deal with endometriosis in their individual way every day, and unfortunately, mostly in silence. Those with pain as their main symptom use pain-killers. Some require contraceptive methods to stop cyst formation while others may require surgery, and those who have difficulties getting pregnant sometimes resort to fertility treatment.

Although endometriosis is a painful condition, pain is not a factor that indicates the severity of the condition. A woman could be experiencing severe pain but has a mild case of the condition the severity can only be determined during surgery. "The severity is graded by the amount of scar tissue and deposits seen in the pelvis during laparoscopic surgery. However, patients with minimal scar tissue can sometimes have severe pain, and vice versa," Bridgewater explained.

However, it is important that women listen to their bodies and discuss any severe pain they may be experiencing with their gynaecologist.