Many of you have never heard of the condition known as endometriosis; many of you have suffered or currently suffer from it. I know that when I first heard the word endometriosis, I was already puzzled by such a long and scary-sounding word. Like so many medical terms in use today, endometriosis is something many have a hard time understanding.
The anatomical word used for the inner lining of the uterus is the endometrium. It is the lining that builds up during the female cycle in order to possibly accept a fertilized egg leading to pregnancy, and which is shed if no pregnancy occurs (known as having a period or menstruating). Endometriosis is when these cells that are only supposed to be composing the endometrial lining somehow grow in other areas of the body, usually in the pelvis behind the uterus, around the ovaries, on or near the intestines, but occasionally in more distant areas of the body. I once had a patient that had endometriosis in a lymph node residing in her neck. I have had two patients with it growing in their inner thighs. It is very rare to have these distant, visible areas of involvement; it can only be diagnosed in most women by seeing it in the abdomen during any sort of surgery. Endometriosis afflicts over 176 million women worldwide. It is the most common cause of pelvic pain in women, can cause distortion and scarring within the body, and lead to infertility for many. Multiple miscarriages are often a result of the effects of endometriosis.
At the current time, there are limited ways to treat endometriosis. Surgical removal and treatment can lead to a temporary respite and help with becoming and/or staying pregnant. Pregnancy is a natural treatment, with 9 months of “rest” for the ovaries, the key stimulators of endometriosis. Use of oral contraceptives offer a minimal, yet sometimes effective way to keep this disorder in check. An injectable contraceptive known as Depo Provera can be a very effective treatment, but prolonged use can lead to unwanted weight gain, depression, and loss of bone over time. A drug known as danazol was used in the past, with good effects against endometriosis; unfortunately, it is more of a “male” hormone that led to deepening voice, decreased breast size, and unwanted hair growth. It has been replaced by a family of medications known as GNRH agonists (Lupron as one example) that lead to a miraculous disappearance of involved areas. The bad news about their use is that these effects are only temporary (2 to 5 years of benefit for most). Endometriosis will almost always tend to recur. Ultimately, many women will resort to a hysterectomy, with removal of the ovaries as well, as the treatment of last resort.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, with the scheduled day of the month for the most publicity being March 19th. At Family Health West, we are choosing March 18th as our day to promote awareness in the community, as well as in our own organization. We are wearing yellow, the color that is associated with endometriosis awareness. Our kitchen staff will be baking yellow cupcakes at all of our facilities, and yellow flowers will be distributed to all of our offices. You can participate by contributing to the Endometriosis Association, a non-profit organization that has the mission to promote awareness as well as fund research into a cure for this disease. You can join us on March 18th by wearing yellow to show your support for the many women who suffer from endometriosis; it will be greatly appreciated!