Infertility Treatments – Endometriosis
The lining of the uterus responds to change that takes place during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. The cycle often is about 28 days. First, the endometrium grows and thickens to prepare for a possible pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the endometrium then thins and is shed by bleeding. These changes are triggered by hormones (estrogen and progesterone) made by the ovaries.
What Is Endometriosis?
With endometriosis, tissue like the endometrium is found in other areas in the body it looks and acts like tissue in the uterus. It most often appears in places within the pelvis:
- Fallopian tubes
- The surface of the uterus
- Cul-de-sac (the space behind the uterus)
- Bladder and ureters
Endometrial tissue may attach to organs in the pelvis or to the peritoneum. It also may be found in other parts of the body. This is very rare, though. Endometrial tissue that grows in the ovaries may cause a cyst (also known as an endometrioma) to form.
Endometrial tissue outside the uterus responds to change in hormones. It also breaks down and bleeds like the lining of the uterus during the menstrual cycle. This bleeding can cause pain, especially before and during your period.
The breakdown and bleeding of this tissue each month also can cause scar tissue, called adhesions. Sometimes adhesions bind organs together. Adhesions also can cause pain.
The symptoms of the endometriosis often worsen over time. In many cases, treatment may help keep the condition from getting worse.
Who Is at Risk?
Endometriosis is most common in women in their 30s and 40s but can occur at any time in women who menstruate. Endometriosis occurs more often in women who have never had children. Women with a mother, sister, or daughter who have had endometriosis are found in about three-quarters of the women who have chronic pelvic pain.
The main symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain. Such pain may occur with sex, during bowel movements or urination, or just before or during your menstrual cycle. Menstrual bleeding may occur more than once a month. Severe endometriosis also may cause infertility.
Although these symptoms may be a sign of endometriosis, they could also be signs of other problems. if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
No one is certain of the cause of endometriosis. For most women, a small amount of blood and cells flow through the fallopian tubes into the abdomen during their period. For women with endometriosis, the cells in the blood that flows through the tubes attach to other places and grow. Endometrial cells also may be carried through blood and lymph vessels.
The amount of pain does not always tell you how severe your condition is. Some women with slight pain may have a severe case others who have a lot of pain may have a mild case.
Many women with endometriosis have no symptoms. In fact, they may first find out that they have endometriosis if they are not able to get pregnant. Endometriosis is found in about one-third of infertile women.
Women often find that symptoms are relieved while they are pregnant. In fact, many of the drugs used to relieve symptoms of endometriosis are based on the effects of hormones produced during pregnancy.
If you have symptoms of endometriosis, your doctor may do physical exam, including a pelvic exam. If other causes of pelvic pain can be ruled out, your doctor may treat endometriosis without doing any further exams or surgery.
Endometriosis can be mild, moderate, or severe. The extent of the disease can be confirmed by looking directly inside the body. This can be done by laparoscopy (see figure).
Sometimes a small amount of tissue is removed during the procedure. This is called a biopsy. The tissue then will be studied in a lab. You will be given pain relief for these procedures.
Endometriosis also can be treated during a laparoscopy. If endometrial tissue is found during the laparoscopy, your doctor may decide to remove it right away.
Treatment for endometriosis depends on the extent of disease, your symptoms, and whether you want to have children. It may be treated with medication, surgery, or both. Although treatments may relieve pain and infertility for a time, symptoms may come back after treatment.
In some cases of endometriosis, medications, or NSAIDs(nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be used to relieve pain, These drugs will not treat any other symptoms of endometriosis.
Hormones also may be used to relieve pain. The hormones also may help slow the growth of the endometrial tissue and may prevent the growth of new adhesions. It will not make them go away, though. Hormone treatment is designed to stop the ovaries from releasing hormones. The hormones most often prescribed include:
- Oral contraceptives
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) medicines
Oral contraceptives. Birth control pills often are prescribed to treat symptoms of endometriosis. The hormone in them helps keep the menstrual period regular, lighter, and shorter and can relieve pain. Your doctor may prescribe the pill in a way that prevents you from having periods.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone. GnRH is a hormone that helps control the menstrual cycle. GnRH agonists are drugs that are much like human GnHR but many times stronger than the natural substance. They lower estrogen levels by turning off the ovaries. This causes a short-term condition that is much like menopause
GnRH can be given as a shot, an implant, or nasal spray. In most cases, endometriosis shrinks, and pain is relieved with GnHR use. Side effects in women taking this medication may include:
- Hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness
- Thin bones
Treatment with GnRH most often lasts at least 3 months. To help reduce the amount of bone loss from long-term use, your doctor may prescribe certain hormones or medications to take along with Gn HR agonists. In many cases, this therapy also may reduce other side effects. After stopping GnHR treatment, you will have periods again in about 6-10 weeks.
progestin. The hormone progestin also can be used to shrink endometriosis. Progestin works against the effects of estrogen on the tissue. Although you will no longer have a monthly menstrual period when taking progestin, you may have irregular vaginal bleeding. Progestin is taken as a pill or injection. Side effects in women taking this medication may include:
- Mood changes
- Weight changes
- Sexual problems
Danazol. Danazol is another type of hormone that shrinks endometrial tissue. It lowers levels of estrogen and progesterone. It is taken as a pill for at least 6 months You will no longer have a menstrual period while taking danazol. The side effects of danazol may include:
- Weight gain
- Deepening of the voice
Surgery may be done to remove endometriosis and the scarred tissue around it. in most severe cases of endometriosis, surgery often is the best choice for treatment. Healthy ovaries and normal follopian tubes are left alone as often as possible.
Surgery most often is done by laproscopy. During laproscopy endometriosis can be removed or burned away. Not all cases can be handled by laproscopy. Sometimes a procedure called laprotomy may be needed .Discuss with your doctor which method may be best for you.
After surgery you may have relief from the pain . Symptoms may return though. Many patients are treated with both surgery and medications to help extend the symptom -free period.
Symptoms return within 1 year in about half of women who have had surgery. The more severe the disease, the more likely it is to return.
If pain is severe and doesn’t go away after treatment, a hysterectomy (surgery to remove your uterus) may be an option . Endometriosis is less likely to come back if your ovaries also are removed. After this procedure, a women will no longer have periods or be able to get pregnant.There is a small chance that your symptoms will come back even if your uterus and ovaries are removed.
Endometriosis is a long-term condition. many women have symptoms that occur off and on until menopause. Keep in mind that there are treatment options. A woman can work with their doctor in making the right decision for her.
It also may help to talk with other women who are coping with endometriosis. Ask your doctor or nurse to suggest a support group in your area.
Endometriosis can cause pain and infertility. It often can be treated with success. You may need more than one kind of treatment. If you have any symptoms of endometriosis, see your doctor.