Endometriosis, or endo, is an often overlooked disease, that is leaching the life out of an estimated one in 10 Canadian women, and yes, some men too.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a complex, chronic, often debilitating, incurable disease affecting some 176 million worldwide, and some 800,000 sufferers here in Canada.

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants abnormally outside of the uterus forming lesions, cysts, nodules, and other growths. These growths have been found on every pelvic organ and surface including ligaments, bladder, ovaries, tubes, uterus, bowel, and other intra-abdominal surfaces.

Rarely, endometriosis has been found on the lung, diaphragm, nasal cavity, and other locations. These growths respond to normal hormonal fluctuations in the body, leading to pain, inflammation, internal bleeding and scarring, and the formation of adhesions (bands of scar tissue that can bind organs together).

"Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants abnormally outside of the uterus forming lesions, cysts, nodules, and other growths."

Symptoms of endometriosis

Each patient may present differently, depending on the location of their growths, but common experiences are shared. The most common being pain: disabling or increasingly painful menstrual cycles, chronic pelvic pain throughout the cycle, pain with sexual activity, back or leg pain during menstruation, and pelvic pain with exercise.

Other symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, nausea and vomiting, painful bowel movements, bladder pain/dysfunction, infertility or pregnancy loss, and fatigue. The variety of symptoms and the overlap with other conditions makes endometriosis difficult to diagnose.

Patients struggle to maintain a normal life. A recent study of the effects of endometriosis found that loss of productivity due to pain was 11 hours per patient, per week. The emotional impact of the disease on patients and family members is incalculable.

Diagnosis and treatment

Currently onset of symptoms to diagnosis takes, on average, eight to 10 years, causing needless suffering. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms talk to your GP, and if necessary, ask to be referred to a gynecologist who specializes in endometriosis.

An experienced specialist can provisionally diagnose endo from a clinical history; however, a definitive diagnosis requires laparoscopy (surgery). During this surgery, suspected endometriosis growths are removed and sent to pathology for confirmation of diagnosis.

There is hope

Although incurable, there are effective treatments for endometriosis. Conventional medical treatments include laparoscopy, hormonal therapy, pelvic physiotherapy, and pain relief medications. Many patients also find relief through alternative approaches such as diet changes, stress reduction techniques, and acupuncture.

Most patients find a combination of treatment strategies provide the best relief from symptoms.

With a toolbox full of options to try, and expert health care practitioners to help, relief from difficult or even debilitating endometriosis symptoms is possible.