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March is Endometriosis Awareness Month
March 1, 2013
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, a time when women should be informed that painful periods may be a sign of a significant, fertility disrupting disease.
Endometriosis is characterized by growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. It can attach to the ovaries, bowels, or bladder and can cause severe pain and irregular bleeding which impact a woman’s quality of life on a daily basis.
Most women with endo are undiagnosed, even in the United States. Women with endometriosis may experience pain with their period, with sex, and with bowel movements. There are many theories as to the cause of endometriosis; including the belief that endometriosis is the result of retrograde bleeding rather than typical downward flow of a woman’s menses. Environmental factors, like a highly stressful career and poor diet, can also contribute to the severity of the disease.
Janelle Luk, M.D., of New Hope Fertility Center in New York City says, “Endometriosis is diagnosed on the presence of pain (especially for younger girls), bleeding, family history of endometriosis, and with a diagnostic laparoscopy. Some fertility doctors advocate for removing scar tissue via laparoscopic surgery to improve symptoms, while others believe endometrial scar tissue should be left alone. Birth control pills can also suppress bleeding and hormones, but the most troubling aspect for women with endometriosis is trying to get pregnant”. Endometrial scar tissue on the ovaries may block ovulation and excessive scar tissue in the uterus may prevent embryo implantation.
Depending on the length of time between stopping birth control and trying to conceive, there may only be a small amount of tissue build up. However, that window of natural fertility is narrow and varies on a per patient basis.
Dr. Luk emphasizes the importance of endometriosis awareness as it is correlated with infertility and a need for fertility treatment. “A woman may need to know she has endometriosis so she understands how it could affect her fertility and not delay treatment. Women have a misconception that they ‘have lots of time’, but if you’re 35 or older, you don’t have time. You have to be proactive,” Luk states. In many cases, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can bypass the presence of significant scar tissue, though less invasive fertility treatments may also be an option for trying to conceive. Consulting a fertility doctor who specializes in endometriosis is an important first step in diagnosing endometriosis and learning about your fertility treatment options.
Exercise can decrease prostaglandin production which in turn decreases tissue inflammation, the most common factor in endometriosis. A healthy diet free of chocolate, ice cream, and soda can also reduce prostaglandin levels.