Endometriosis is the presence of endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus. At the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, the endometrial lining is shed and is discharged from the body. However, endometrial tissue that isn’t growing in the uterus has no way to shed, so it can become inflamed and turn into scar tissue.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but doctors do have some ideas of why it may happen. For instance, tissues of the endometrium may not shed properly and travel back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity. Some doctors believe that blood vessels or the lymphatic system may accidently transport endometrial cells to other areas of the body. Other experts believe that some hormones may accidentally change peritoneal cells, which line the abdomen, into endometrial cells. Lastly, if a woman already has an immune disorder, she may be at risk for endometriosis since the body is unable to recognize and destroy tissue growing outside of the uterus.
Endometriosis may present no symptoms. If there are symptoms, women may mistake their condition for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other conditions that affect the pelvis.
Although there is no exact known cause of endometriosis, researchers believe it could be connected to several factors. Some of those factors include endometrial cell transport, retrograde menstruation, immune system disorders, peritoneal cell transformation, and surgical scar implantation.
The known risk factors associated with endometriosis include starting your period at an early age, having higher estrogen levels in your body, going through menopause later than usual, having a family history of endometriosis (such as your aunt, mother, or sister having previously developed it), and having never given birth. Other risk factors include having short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days), a low body mass index, a medical condition that prevents menstrual flow from exiting the body, or any uterine abnormalities.
Using a heating pad can lessen painful cramps felt in the pelvis and lower back. Taking supplemental hormones can reduce or even cure painful symptoms of endometriosis by slowing down tissue growth. A doctor can also recommend a good over-the-counter analgesic, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
If the endometriosis is bad enough, laparoscopic surgery may be required. During this surgery, a doctor inserts a slender viewing instrument through an incision in the abdomen and removes the excess tissue. For women who are not planning on getting pregnant or trying in vitro fertilization, hysterectomy is another surgical option.
While endometriosis can’t be completely prevented, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting it. For instance, lowering your estrogen level can help prevent endometriosis.
You can also prevent endometriosis by avoiding soy foods, as the high levels of toxins and phytoestrogen in soy can trigger symptoms of endometriosis. Eating a healthy diet full of whole foods – such as red, green and orange vegetables, fruits with high levels of antioxidants, high-grade meats and fish, and plenty of fiber, omega-3’s and iron – can also help prevent endometriosis.
Xenoestrogens in your environment can also cause endometriosis. Limiting your exposure to them can help prevent it, as well as complications associated with it – such as infertility and ovarian cancer.