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What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that can affect women in their childbearing years. Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue (a tissue that lines the inside of the uterus) begins to grow on the outside of the uterus. The tissue that grows on the outside of the uterus forms clumps that typically grow on the organs in the belly such as the outside walls of the uterus, the ovaries, the fallopian tubes and the intestines. In rare cases, this tissue may spread to other organs that are not in the belly.
The endometrium typically breaks down and sheds during the menstrual cycle or a fertilized egg attaches to it during pregnancy.
When endometriosis occurs, the implants are located on the outside of the uterus so they do not break down and the blood does not flow out of the body. These implants can form cysts and scar tissue.
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The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but it is known that estrogen, a female hormone, can aggravate the condition. Since this hormone is high during the teen years until a woman hits menopause, endometriosis can occur. Those with this condition usually notice that their symptoms disappear once they enter menopause because estrogen levels drop.
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The symptoms of endometriosis can vary greatly from patient to patient and some patients never experience any symptoms at all. Common symptoms of endometriosis include infertility, abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods, heavy bleeding during menstrual periods, blood in stool and/or urine, bleeding after intercourse, pain (will depend on where the implants are), painful menstrual periods, painful bowel movements and painful intercourse.
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Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose endometriosis a doctor will first do a patient and family history. Next, a doctor will most likely perform a pelvic exam and possibly a rectal exam. The doctor may also want to order an ultrasound, a CT scan and/or an MRI to check for ovarian cysts. The only way to diagnose endometriosis definitively is through a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. This involves a small incision in the belly in which the doctor inserts a small, lighted tube to get a better look inside the belly and the organs in the belly. If the doctor does find any cysts, implants or scar tissue they can usually remove them during this procedure.
Endometriosis cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Many patients will need to try several different treatments before they find one that is effective. Some patients may take a few different medications such as NSAIDS, birth control (pills) and hormone therapy. It depends on the patient and what they are seeking out of treatment. Those seeking to get pregnant should not use most of the medications and they should have a laparoscopy performed. Those who are in severe pain and not looking to get pregnant may opt to have their uterus and ovaries completely removed. As with all treatments, there are side effects and all patients experience them and cope with them differently.
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Unknown. (2007). Women's Health: Endometriosis. Retrieved on December 26, 2008 from WebMD Website: http://women.webmd.com/endometriosis/endometriosis-topic-overview
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