(Tina Dawn/ VM Med) — One of the most difficult medical conditions to diagnose is endometriosis. Even though the condition affects millions of women around the world, many may suffer through years of dismissed symptoms and misdiagnoses before they finally receive a medical confirmation that it wasn’t all in their heads.
In simple terms, endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. According to the World Health Organization, “the cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no known way to prevent endometriosis. There is no cure, but its symptoms can be treated with medicine or, in some cases, surgery.”
Endometriosis vs PCOS
Endometriosis is often confused with PCOS, officially known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS is a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal number of androgens, male sex hormones. Androgens are usually present in women in small amounts, but with PCOS they appear in much higher amounts, creating medical issues. The name of the condition describes the numerous small cysts that form in the ovaries. Some women with this disorder will not develop cysts, while some women without the disorder will.
Both endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome cause menstrual problems, which can lead to heavy bleeding. They can also make it difficult to get pregnant.
According to medical experts, “endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) each affect up to 10% of women and significantly reduce the health, fertility, and quality of life of those affected.”
While endometriosis is often confused with PCOS, the symptoms of each condition can be quite different since they involve different hormonal issues. Since PCOS is caused by excess androgens, or male hormones, those with the condition may experience excess body hair or thinning hair. To make matters even more confusing, both conditions can exist at the same time.
Adenomyosis vs Endometriosis
Endometriosis is often also confused with another painful condition, Adenomyosis. This condition occurs when tissue similar to the lining of your uterus starts to grow into the muscle wall of your uterus. While it’s a benign condition, its symptoms can be debilitating. The condition makes the uterine walls thicker and enlarges them, often leading to painful, heavy, or prolonged periods. While different from endometriosis, people with adenomyosis may also have or develop endometriosis.
Adenomyosis affects between 11 and 13% of the female population and usually affects women between the ages of 35 and 40.
Uncommon Symptoms of Endometriosis
While the main symptom of endometriosis tends to be extreme pain, symptoms can often be inconsistent and vague, presenting differently in many women. To make matters even more complicated, some may experience no symptoms, making it hard for this group to actually receive a diagnosis. Another major symptom is infertility.
Uncommon symptoms of endometriosis complicate matters for patients because these rare symptoms typically go unnoticed. Some of them are abnormal and/or painful bowel movements, chest pain, fatigue, acid reflux, pain during sex, or pain during urination. Since endometriosis is inflammatory in nature, it can also cause mild and serious gastrointestinal complications and so is often misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
Another manifestation of the condition that brings home the message as to why proper diagnosis and follow-up are important: A recent study found that women with a history of endometriosis had a greater risk for stroke.
It’s important to know your family history as many women often wonder if endometriosis is genetic. Researchers at Oxford University also found that endometriosis can run in families, and therefore genetic factors can play a role in how it develops in some women but not in others.
Diagnosis and Follow-up
The most common tests doctors use to diagnose endometriosis are ultrasound, a pelvic exam, a laparoscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Because of the condition’s complexity, variety of symptoms, and its ability to often mimic other gynecological conditions, endometriosis requires the specialized care of a gynecology center. If surgery is found to be necessary for endometriosis treatment, it should be safely and efficiently performed by a gynecologic pelvic surgeon.
VM-Med’s private gynecology center and its specialized team offers specialized counselling and treatments on a wide range of issues, including endometriosis. There are no questions or concerns that are off the table for your gynecologist.