Many women and girls don’t know what endometriosis is though it affects about 6.3 million of American women.
We don’t think about medical conditions until something happens to us personally or to someone really close to our heart and soul. Then we really research and dig into data to learn more, so we could help more to a person in need.
One of the medical conditions that remain “under radar” from our lives is endometriosis. I didn’t know much about this disease that affects between 2 percent and 10 percent of women of reproductive age, until one of friends finally got diagnosed and treated with this disease.
After years and years of pain and agony, she was able to start her pain-free life. Finally. Joy of living and breathing and doing many things she was able to do.
I asked Rebecca Alvandi of Maxim, who is intimately familiar with women’s hygiene needs and who regularly provides education on women’s health, to talk to us about the endometriosis, and what we all can do to know the symptoms and educate ourselves on many ways of dealing with it.
Why haven’t most people heard of it?
By Rebecca Alvandi, Co-Founder of Maxim
Probably because the most common symptoms of endometriosis are commonly confused with period symptoms. This blog gives an overview of endometriosis: its causes, symptoms, potential treatment and prevention, and links with more information.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder that occurs when the endometrium, or lining of a woman’s uterus (womb), grows in other parts of the body. Although it is most common in women who are in their 30s and 40s, it can still occur in younger girls.
Before understanding why endometriosis causes pain and problems, we should review the monthly menstrual cycle.
Each cycle, the uterine lining builds up with blood vessels and tissue in preparation to receive the egg that gets released from one of the ovaries. If sperm doesn’t fertilize the egg, the uterus sheds the tissue and blood. This is called menstruation, or our period.
Endometrial cells outside the uterus act the same way and respond to the female hormones that control menstruation. The endometrial tissue, regardless of where it is in the body, thickens and bleeds, except there is no exit for the buildup if these cells are located outside the womb.
This build up of tissue results in abnormal growths, which can cause scarring or inflammation. Over time, these growths become larger and larger more painful. Endometrial cells can be found in the abdominal cavity or in the fallopian tubes, on the external surface of the womb, on the ovaries, or between the womb and the rectum (called the Pouch of Douglas).
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Because many of the symptoms occur in varying degrees of severity, this disorder can go undetected for long periods of time. Contrary to general assumption, the amount of pain a woman feels doesn’t determine whether or not she has endometriosis or how many growths she might have.
Symptoms can include:
- Intense and painful menstrual cramps; the pain may get worse over time
- Ineffectiveness of standard, over the counter pain medication
- Chronic pain in the lower back, intestines, pelvis or abdomen
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Painful bowel movements or painful urination during periods
- Diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea, especially during periods
What causes endometriosis?
There is no definite known cause of endometriosis, but there are several theories. The most common theory is called ‘retrograde menstruation.’ This phenomenon is when endometrial cells travel backwards, up the fallopian tubes and into the body.
One possibility is that parts of the abdominal lining turn into endometrial tissue. Since both the abdomen and endometrium are derived from embryonic cells, certain abdominal cells have the ability to specialize and take on the structure and function of endometrial cells.
Another theory is that the lymphic system carries endometrial cells to other parts of the body.
New research by the Endometriosis Association shows links between dioxin (TCCD) exposure and endometriosis. Dioxin is a toxic chemical byproduct of pesticide manufacturing, bleached pulp and paper products, and medical and municipal waste incineration.
Most ordinary tampons and pads are bleached with chlorine and as a result have been linked to having trace amounts of dioxin in them. That is why organic and natural chlorine free products, such as Maxim tampons, are being increasingly valued for their safety.
Risk factors for endometriosis include:
- never having given birth
- periods which last for more than 7/8 days
- menstrual cycles that are less than 27 days
- a history of chronic pelvic infections
- a family member, such as a mother or sister, who has endometriosis
The treatment for this disorder depends on several factors such as age, symptom severity, disorder severity, and the desire to have children in the future. Options include pain medication, hormonal medications like birth control to regulate estrogen production, surgery to remove the growths, or in very serious cases, hysterectomies (removal of the uterus and potentially the ovaries and fallopian tubes as well).
What to do if you think you may have endometriosis:
First, don’t worry!
Educate yourself as much as possible so that you can ask informed questions and make the best decision for yourself after consulting your doctor.
Don’t be embarrassed. Your body’s health and your vagina’s health are essential components of your overall mental health. Women who suffer from endometriosis complications can often feel depressed. They may also miss work, school or social engagements due to pain.
Before you can feel like your fabulous, fierce self again, you have to take care of yourself. To keep your vagina healthy, use organic hygiene products such as those produced by Maxim to ensure you do not augment the risk factors of endometriosis by increased exposure to dioxin.
Get regular gynecological checkups and ask if anything feels wrong.
If you think you may have endometriosis, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist/OBGYN. There are several ways in which doctors can examine your condition including pelvic exams, transvaginal ultrasounds, or in complicated cases – a laparoscopy.