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March is Endometriosis Awareness Month

Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

Backed by Congressional legislation, the Endometriosis Research Center (ERC) is again celebrating March as "Endometriosis Awareness Month" in honor of all those affected by the disease.

Endometriosis is a painful reproductive and immunological disease in which tissue similar to the uterine lining (endometrium) migrates outside the womb and implants in other areas of the body. The disorder, for which there is no absolute cure, affects over 5.5 million women and girls in the U.S. alone and more than 70 million globally. Endometriosis is often stigmatized as simply "killer cramps". The disease can even implant in areas like lungs, diaphragm, and in some cases, even the brain.

The cause of endometriosis remains uncertain. Experts are studying the roles that hormones and the immune system play in this condition.

One theory holds that menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes, takes root and grows. Another hypothesis proposes that the bloodstream carries endometrial cells to other sites in the body. Still another theory speculates that a predisposition toward endometriosis may be carried in the genes of certain families. A faulty immune response also may contribute to the development of endometriosis.

Other researchers believe that certain cells present within the abdomen in some women retain their ability to become endometrial cells. These same cells were responsible for the growth of the women's reproductive organs at the embryo stage. It's believed that genetic or environmental influences in later life allow these cells to give rise to endometrial tissue outside the uterus.

Endometriosis can be mild, moderate or severe, and without treatment, it tends to get worse over time. Some women with endometriosis have no signs and symptoms at all, and the disease is discovered only when bits of endometrial tissue (implants) are found outside the uterus during an unrelated operation, such as a tubal ligation. Women may experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea).
  • Pelvic pain at other times. Women may experience pelvic pain during ovulation, a sharp pain deep in the pelvis during intercourse, or pain during bowel movements or urination.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Infertility. Endometriosis is first diagnosed in some women who are seeking treatment for infertility.

    Endometriosis is sometimes mistaken for other conditions that can cause pelvic pain, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or ovarian cysts. It may be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes bouts of diarrhea, constipation and abdominal cramping. IBS can accompany endometriosis, which can complicate the diagnosis.

    The Endometriosis Resource Center maintains that Endometriosis is more than just painful periods. "We continue to find that the disease remains misdiagnosed, misunderstood and ineffectively treated, despite being one of the most prevalent causes of hysterectomy, infertility and pelvic pain in women and girls around the globe," said Michelle E. Marvel, ERC Founder & Executive Director. "Despite hallmark symptoms, the average delay in diagnosis remains an astounding 9 years, and a patient will seek the counsel of 5 or more physicians before her pain is adequately addressed," she added. Endometriosis can affect women from all walks of life ranging from adolescence to post-menopause, and be so painful as to render a woman or girl unable to go about her normal routine. "It is not unusual for a patient to undergo repeated surgeries and embark on different medical therapies; many carrying significantly negative side effects and none offering long-term relief," noted Marvel.

    Risk factors for greater risk of developing endometriosis are:

  • Never giving birth to an infant
  • Having endometriosis diagnosed in your mother
  • Having menstrual cycles shorter than 27 days with bleeding lasting longer than eight days
  • Having a medical condition that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow
  • Experiencing damage to cells that line the pelvis by previous infection
  • Being white or Asian

    The main complication of endometriosis is impaired fertility. Approximately one-third to one-half of women who have endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant. Tests to check for endometriosis include:

  • Pelvic exam.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Laparoscopy.
  • Blood test. Cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) is a blood test often used to detect tumor markers for certain cancers, but it's also used to detect a certain protein found in the blood of women with endometriosis.

    Treatment for endometriosis is usually with medications or surgery.

    The ERC strongly advocates for early intervention, timely diagnosis and efficacy of treatment for the disease. Through their efforts to raise public awareness in the medical and lay communities, the organization hopes to facilitate better support of patients, increase physician understanding of the disease and raise research funding, which will hopefully lead to more effective treatments and ultimately, a cure. The ERC, unique in that it is a free organization, has traditionally celebrated the entire month of March as Awareness Month, coinciding with the organizations annual anniversary.


    For more information on this and other awareness month endeavors, please visit http://www.endocenter.org/artforendo.htm Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov or contact Denise Childs, ERC Director of Fundraising, at FundraisingDirector@EndoCenter.org. Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

    Endometriosis Research Center
    A 501(c)3 tax-exempt, tax-deductible organization
    World Headquarters: 630 Ibis Drive Delray Beach, FL 33444 USA
    http://www.endocenter.org/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov
    Phone: (800) 239-7280

    http://www.endocenter.org/ Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/endometriosis/DS00289 Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

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