Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
Growing up in the rural village, I used to hear stories, myths, and tales that consequently metamorphosed into undeniable made-up facts. Not only was this a product of ignorance but of illiteracy too. One of those myths was the issue around infertility. What we heard and knew about infertility was that it only affected women. And that it was a result of some sort of curse. “A waste of womanhood”, some people would say. What we did not know, however, was how or why some women couldn't bear children of their own.
It was not until I went to university that I began to gain some knowledge and understanding of health issues in more depth and from a different perspective. Especially on the matter of infertility. For instance, several studies have shown infertility to be a symptom of underlying health conditions. Health conditions such as, endometriosis, PCOS, cancer and injuries. Or unsurprisingly that infertility could be entirely because of the male's fertility issues not the woman's. Irregardless, fertility and marriage are personal and sensitive topics for many people. And while the majority of women may deem marriage as a necessity for having biological children as the conventional way to go. It isn't the case for everyone.
Which is why having as much knowledge and information as possible is crucial. Especially when wanting or planing to conceive. Which is why as part of raising awareness for this year's endometriosis awareness month. This article will focus on explaining what endometriosis is and how to manage it.
What is endometriosis?
According to the oxford concise color medical dictionary, endometriosis refers to “fragments of endometrial tissue at sites in the pelvis outside the uterus (womb)”. Sometimes these fragments can also be found in other parts of the body such as in the bladder, ovaries, bowels, and rarely in the “lungs, rectum or umbilical cord.” In simple terms, this means that the tissue (called the endometrium) that is found only in the uterus is also present in other organs where it shouldn't be.
From the data produced by “The World Endometriosis Society” and “The World Endometriosis Research Foundation”, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years are affected by endometriosis. This number accounts for approximately 176 million women in the world.
Causes, and symptoms of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is one of the conditions that are difficult to detect. In large part because of their interlinked signs and symptoms with other conditions. For that reason, it makes it difficult to diagnose. Some studies also conclude that the cause of endometriosis is not evident. However, some studies say it could be linked to genetics, which means that women whose mothers and/or sisters had endometriosis have a higher chance of getting it too.
Symptoms of endometriosis, like any other condition, may vary with people. Some women may be asymptomatic but most women may experience some or all of the following signs symptoms. Besides infertility, other symptoms of endometriosis may include but are not limited to pelvic pain, severe period pains, pain during or after sexual intercourse, pelvic mass, pain during the ovulation window, heavy bleeding and fatigue, among others.
Treatment options for endometriosis.
Although there is no known cure for endometriosis. The signs and symptoms can be managed with drug therapy. The following are some of the examples of hormone therapies compiled by Mayo Clinic that you can discuss with your doctor.
- Progestin therapy
- Hormonal contraceptives
- Aromatase inhibitors
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonist and antagonist
Other treatment options that doctors may use to manage the signs and symptoms include, NSAIDs (e.g Ibuprofen) to manage the pain. Surgery to remove endometriosis lesions and scar tissues. Fertility treatment if you are having trouble conceiving as well as home remedies (e.g. warm baths and applying a heating pad to help reduce abdominal cramping and pain).
It is important to know and understand that, due to the complexity of the female reproductive system, it can be challenging to comprehend what each sign or symptom means. This is why going for regular screening and exams is important. And since you can never really know what each sign or symptom is telling you. It is advisable to always consult your doctor if you suspect any of the symptoms. Even if it might not be an indication of endometriosis, it could be something else. Which through early detection, can be successfully treated.