Endometriosis, Fertility & Reproductive Health
For years, Vicky went on with her life in what seemed like a normal way of living. Like many teenage and young adult women, she experienced some degree of pain and discomfort during her menstrual cycles. However, Vicky’s pain was excessive and intensified with each passing cycle. Despite this, she assumed it was a normal part of menstruation. Her routine Pap tests consistently yielded the same results, indicating that everything was normal and there were no visible abnormalities.
Years passed and Vicky, now a married woman was planning on getting pregnant. She tried in many ways to conceive until it became a worrying situation as month after month she was unable to get pregnant. Both Vicky and her husband underwent a series of tests to determine the root of their infertility issues. It was eventually discovered that, despite her regular gynecological check-ups throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, Vicky had endometriosis. This was a condition that she had never heard of before, but it was the underlying cause of her painful periods and her inability to conceive.
Endometriosis is a common condition where the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside of it, causing inflammation, scarring, and pain. One of the lesser-known symptoms of endometriosis is infertility, which affects up to 50% of women with the condition. Doctors told Vicky that one way to treat the condition was to get pregnant. The thing is that it was the same condition that was preventing her from getting pregnant. This meant Vicky had to consider undergoing different treatments to get pregnant. This also meant her pregnancy would be costly.
As Vicky experienced, diagnosing endometriosis is challenging. The symptoms of the condition are similar to those of other gynecological conditions. The most common symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, which can be severe and often occurs during menstruation. Other symptoms of endometriosis include painful intercourse, pain during bowel movements or urination, and heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding.
If you are experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, consult with your healthcare provider who should perform a physical exam and may order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI, to look for signs of abnormal tissue growth. A definitive diagnosis of endometriosis can only be made through a laparoscopy, which is a surgical procedure that involves making a small incision in the abdomen and inserting a thin, lighted tube to look for signs of endometrial tissue growth.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects the reproductive system. The tissue that lines the uterus typically grows and sheds during the menstrual cycle. But in women with endometriosis, this tissue can grow outside of the uterus, often in the pelvic area but sometimes in other parts of the body as well. This can lead to the formation of scar tissue, adhesions, and even cysts.
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary depending on the severity of the condition, but may include:
- Pelvic pain or cramping, especially during menstruation
- Heavy periods or irregular bleeding
- Painful bowel movements or urination
- Fatigue or low energy
How Endometriosis Affects Fertility
Endometriosis can cause infertility in several ways. One of the most common is by blocking or damaging the fallopian tubes, which are responsible for carrying the egg from the ovary to the uterus. The inflammation and scarring caused by endometriosis can make it difficult for the egg to travel through the tubes or for the sperm to reach the egg.
Endometriosis can also affect fertility by altering the quality of the eggs and embryos. The inflammation caused by the condition can damage the eggs, making them less viable for fertilization. Additionally, endometriosis can cause hormonal imbalances that disrupt ovulation, making it harder for women to conceive. In Vicky’s case, her periods did not always follow a standard cycle. In some months her cycle would be less than 27 days; in others, it would be a few months before she would see her period.
Finally, endometriosis can cause infertility by affecting the implantation of the embryo. The abnormal tissue growth can make the lining of the uterus inhospitable to a fertilized egg, preventing it from implanting and growing into a pregnancy. Endometriosis can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones needed for ovulation and pregnancy.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of endometriosis is not fully understood, but there are several theories. One possibility is that menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows backward into the pelvic cavity instead of leaving the body during menstruation. Another theory suggests that endometrial cells may travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
Several risk factors may increase a woman’s likelihood of developing endometriosis. These include:
- A family history of endometriosis
- Early onset of menstruation
- Late onset of menopause
- Short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
Managing Endometriosis-Related Infertility
While endometriosis-related infertility can be challenging, there are several treatment options available for women who want to conceive. One of the most effective is surgery to remove the endometrial tissue. This can help to reduce inflammation and scarring and improve the chances of conception. Many times, this is the first step so the following treatments can be successful.
Another option is in vitro fertilization (IVF), which involves fertilizing the eggs outside of the body and then implanting them in the uterus. This can bypass the blockages caused by endometriosis and improve the chances of pregnancy.
Hormonal treatments can also be effective in managing endometriosis-related infertility. These treatments can help to regulate ovulation and reduce inflammation, improving the chances of conception. Hormonal treatments can include birth control pills, progestin therapy, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. However, these treatments may not be suitable for all women, and they can come with side effects, such as hot flashes, mood changes, and vaginal dryness.
In addition to medical treatments, lifestyle changes can also help to manage endometriosis-related infertility, reducing inflammation and improving overall reproductive health. Some lifestyle changes that may be beneficial include:
- Healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health. Avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and caffeine may also be helpful.
- Get moving: Regular exercise can help reduce pain and improve mood. Low-impact exercises such as yoga, swimming, and walking are good options.
- Reduce stress: Stress can worsen endometriosis symptoms, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress. Meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness techniques can be helpful.
- Bring on the Zzz: Getting enough sleep is important for overall health and can also help reduce pain and fatigue associated with endometriosis.
- Avoiding environmental toxins: Certain environmental toxins, such as pesticides, plastics, and chemicals in personal care products, can disrupt hormone balance and worsen endometriosis symptoms. Avoiding exposure to these toxins as much as possible may be helpful.
- Support tribe: Living with endometriosis can be challenging, so it’s important to have a strong support system. This may include friends, family, support groups, or therapy.
Incorporating a nutritious and well-rounded diet, along with regular exercise, can help to diminish inflammation and enhance reproductive health. Furthermore, implementing stress-reducing techniques like yoga or meditation may contribute to harmonizing hormones and augmenting fertility.
Ultimately, having a dependable support system is crucial when navigating endometriosis-related infertility. Coping with infertility can be a trying and emotive experience, and having the support of loved ones, family members, or a support group can significantly alleviate the burden. Making changes to your lifestyle will aid in managing infertility associated with endometriosis.
The Future with Endometriosis
For Vicky, her IVF treatment allowed her to have the twins she always dreamt of having. Years after her multiple pregnancy she was able to get pregnant this time without the use of any treatments. Just as one of her doctors mentioned, her endometriosis, in this case, was treated through her first pregnancy and that helped her body the second time around allowing her to conceive without the difficulties of the first pregnancy. Know that, if you suffer from endometriosis, there is a bright future ahead. Remember to stay strong and empowered, and don’t let the challenges of the condition deter you from achieving your goals. Don’t give up on your dreams to become a mother and slay it like a bold womban who triumphs through adversity because, with determination and resilience, you too can overcome any obstacle and thrive.
Did endometriosis affect your ability to conceive? We’d love to hear your story and any tips you can share with the womban community. Feel free to start the conversation in the comments below.