The endometrium is a membrane that lines the inner walls of the uterus. The tissue in the endometrium swells during the menstrual cycle. When a fertilized egg implants in the endometrium, the implant forms the basis for the growth of the embryo. If this does not happen, the tissue breaks up and is discharged, causing a woman to experience her period.
For reasons that are not fully understood, sometimes endometrial cells occur outside the womb. They can grow in parts of the pelvis, the ovaries and the bowel. When this happens, the condition is termed endometriosis.
Endometrial cells that grow outside the womb behave just like those that grow inside it. That is, they thicken during the menstrual cycle, and break away when no fertilized egg is present. Unlike the discarded tissue which is discharged form the womb, there is no way that endometrial cells outside it can discharge, and this can lead to complications such as ovarian cysts.
Diagnosing endometriosis can be problematical. Women most often visit their doctor because they feel pain, with the level intensifying during their periods. However, these symptoms are similar to those of other disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Doctors use palpation (applying finger pressure) on the abdomen to try to feel any abnormal growth. They may use an ultrasound scan to see if there are growths. However, even if these tests are negative, it does not mean the patient does not have endometriosis.
Gynecologists need to use a laparoscopy as the only definitive way to diagnose the condition. A small cut is made near the navel, and gynecologists introduce a camera through the incision. They can then visually check for abnormal cell growth.
There is no cure for endometriosis, so treatments concentrate on managing the pain associated with it. Depending on the severity of the pain, patients may be advised to use over-the-counter pain relievers, or they may be prescribed stronger drugs. Another option is to use drugs to stop the ovaries producing hormones that lead to ovulation.
Gynecologists may suggest surgery to remove abnormal tissue. This can be effective in reducing pain, but it does not prevent abnormal tissue from regrowing. In the most severe cases, gynecologists may suggest surgically removing the womb and ovaries.
If you suffer from abdominal pain, you should inform your doctor or contact a specialist clinic like the Austin Diagnostic Clinic in Austin TX.