In some cases the endometrial tissue implants will also grow on the bowel, rectum, bladder, or even other areas of the body.
This displaced tissue thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Tissue around the implants can become irritated and eventually may develop into scar tissue or adhesions (which bind organs together).
The symptoms of endometriosis are many and vary from woman to woman, but may include any combination of the following:
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Chronic pain in the lower back and pelvis
- Pain during or after sex
- Intestinal pain
- Painful bowel movements or urination (particularly during menstrual periods)
- Spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods
- Diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea (particularly during menstrual periods)
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recent research has shown a link between health problems in women with endometriosis and their families, which can include:
- Allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivities
- Autoimmune diseases (such as hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, and lupus), in which the body’s system that fights illness attacks itself instead
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia
- An increased likelihood of getting infections and mononucleosis
- Mitral valve prolapse (a condition in which one of the heart's valves does not close as tightly as normal
- Frequent yeast infections
- Certain cancers, such as ovarian, breast, endocrine, kidney, thyroid, brain, and colon cancers, and melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Estimates on the number of women affected by endometriosis range from 3 percent to 20 percent.
It's hard to pinpoint a solid number, in part, because many women who have it do not have any pain or symptoms. Even some women who later discover they have many endometrial implants have no idea until they try to become pregnant and have difficulty conceiving. In other women, however, the symptoms can be quite severe—even if they only have a few endometrial implants.
There is no known cause of endometriosis, although there are numerous theories as to why some women suffer from it while others do not. That's something we'll explore later.
In the meantime, just know that if you have endometriosis, you are not alone. And although there is no cure for this disease, there are steps you can take to live a healthy, happy life. By getting informed, you're taking that valuable first step.