March is Endometriosis Awareness Month

SPRINGFIELD — What do celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Tia Mowry, Jillian Michaels, Julianne Hough, and Lena Dunham have in common? They all suffer from endometriosis, an often-debilitating condition that affects some 5 million American women, putting some of them at risk for infertility.

“Endometriosis is a very common finding in women seeking infertility treatment, many of whom may not even know they have the condition,” said Dr. Halina Wiczyk, a reproductive endocrinologist at Baystate Medical Center.

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of a disease that affects women and their families in their most reproductive years.

Endometriosis is a gynecologic disease where cells, similar to the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, grow outside of the uterus, causing pain and infertility. The cells grow and bleed in various parts of the pelvic cavity and ultimately create inflammation, scar tissue, and adhesions.

It is estimated that 30-40{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of women with endometriosis may not be able to have children without seeking medical assistance. Some 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of all women during their reproductive years are affected by the disease.

Although a large percentage of women suffer from the disease, the lack of awareness about endometriosis often causes a delay in seeking treatment. Some reports note that it can take up to 10 years for a woman to be accurately diagnosed. Some never have symptoms and go undiagnosed.

“The greater length of time to diagnosis, especially in younger women, is due to the fact that, initially, endometriosis may not be thought to be the cause of painful periods that the patient is complaining of. So a definitive diagnosis is not made at that time, sometimes until much later,” Wiczyk said.

While there is no one specific cause of endometriosis, she noted that doctors do know that genetics and environmental factors can play a role, as well as family history, age, non-suppression of menstruation, and various uterine abnormalities.

The most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, which often correlates with the menstrual cycle. The pain can be so severe and debilitating that it impacts women significantly, interrupting their daily schedules. Other symptoms include fatigue, painful intercourse, painful urination during periods, painful bowel movements during periods, excessive bleeding, and other gastrointestinal problems.

A pelvic exam, performed by a doctor, is the first step to acknowledging a potential problem. Wiczyk said a most reliable way to diagnose endometriosis is by a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. During the procedure, a lighted, thin tube connected to a camera is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision, allowing doctors to view the abdominal cavity — including such areas as the outside of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other nearby organs — and actually see the areas affected by endometriosis and treat and/or remove them. Ultrasound can also be used to evaluate the pelvis. Other treatments, in addition to surgery, include pain medications and hormone therapy.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for endometriosis, with treatment options only alleviating symptoms and helping patients to return to their daily lives. Management of the disease is often a long-term process, and if one treatment doesn’t work, it is important to remain optimistic and work with a doctor to explore other options.

“Among those options are less-invasive surgical techniques, such as alcohol ablation, which is especially effective in treating what we refer to as ‘big chocolate cysts’ resulting from the endometriosis,” Wiczyk said. “It is also important to note that assisted reproductive technologies, available at Baystate, may be necessary to help women with endometriosis become pregnant.”

For more information or an appointment with Baystate Reproductive Medicine, call (413) 794-7045.