Endometriosis: what is it?
Endometriosis is a female-specific condition resulting from the anomalous accumulation of endometrial cells outside the uterus. The endometrial cells are usually found inside the uterus. This anomaly causes a chronic inflammation detrimental to the female reproductive system, which is revealed by strong intestinal pain.
The main symptoms of endometriosis include intense pain during the menstrual/premenstrual (dysmenorrhea) and ovulation periods, chronic pelvic pain, painful sexual intercourse and chronic tiredness. A low percentage of endometriosis patients can be asymptomatic.
For a correct diagnosis, you must first go to a specialist or a specialized centre. There are various diagnostic tests; sometimes, they can be selected and adjusted according to the patient’s characteristics and needs. Recommended exams include, in order of sensitivity and precision, the following: gynaecological visit, rectal examination, imaging techniques like magnetic resonance, transvaginal ultrasound and specific blood tests.
Nowadays, the most rapid and efficient treatment is the surgical asportation of the endometrium via laparoscopy, without affecting the reproductive apparatus of the patient. This is the less invasive method that best ensures a precise removal of all the active sites of the disease and can be repeated over time.
Due to the strong pain, a common solution is the administration of progestogens that, however, have several collateral effects if assumed for long periods. These drugs rapidly relieve the pain but do not treat the disease, as proved by the return of the symptoms once their administration is stopped.
Endometriosis occurs in the presence of a chronic inflammation resulting from the excessive production of estrogens*. Thus, nutrition, lifestyle and specific dietary supplements to reduce the inflammation are presently the best and most natural aids for a long-term, healthy and sustainable reduction of the disease. For over 15 years, the Italian Endometriosis Foundation has been studying the nutritional aspects to recommend the best foods and their combinations for significantly reducing the inflammation and, hence, the endometriosis condition.
Endometriosis and infertility
Infertility is not strictly caused by endometriosis alone. Nonetheless, it affects 30% of the endometriosis patients.
Many scientific studies are currently investigating the relationship between endometriosis and infertility. Although there is not a unique opinion, endometriosis surely affects in various ways the female reproductive apparatus, especially the tissues involved in the embryo implantation and the ovaries; therefore, when the fecundation chances are already limited, it leads to infertility.
Did you know?
- 1 in every 10 women suffers from endometriosis. However, this is only an estimation and, thus, such statistics can greatly vary.
- 15 years ago, the Italian Endometriosis Foundation was the first to study the significant importance of anti-inflammatory foods in fighting the disease. Now, the diet recommended by its medical–scientific staff is free to download.
- If you think you are suffering from endometriosis, the Italian Endometriosis Foundation gives you the possibility to do a free online autotest for addressing the diagnosis of your symptoms and deciding whether to see a specialist.
- There is a private community on Facebook where you can talk about this disease.
Below, you can find further specific information about endometriosis.
Endometriosis: infertility and research
The relationship between endometriosis and infertility is an active research area.
Some studies suggest that this disease alters the uterus, making it incapable of accepting embryos. Others are trying to determine whether it modifies the oocyte or hinders the travel of the fertilized egg towards the uterus.
The exact cause of endometriosis is still unknown. However, in 2009, the research group of the Italian Endometriosis Foundation, thanks to the great intuition of Prof. Pietro Giulio Signorile, demonstrated the presence of endometrial cells outside the uterus in the pelvic region of human fetuses. With this epochal study, followed by others, the team concluded that the contamination by endocrine disruptors of female embryos in the maternal uterus can disturb the expression of some genes for the correct formation of their genital apparatus, leading to the release of endometrial cells outside the womb.
Endometriosis can result from a condition called retrograde menstruation, that is, the menstrual blood flows towards the back of the body, through the uterine tubes. However, this mechanism has not been demonstrated, yet; thus, this theory is currently unproven.
Researchers are trying to unravel other factors that can induce the growth of the endometrial tissue in some women and not in others.
Another theory suggests a genetic cause. This condition might be hereditary or result from genetic mistakes.
Researchers are investigating other possible causes, including estrogens, hormones produced during the reproductive cycle that apparently promote the endometriosis development. Thus, the research is considering endometriosis as a disease affecting not only the reproductive system but also the endocrine one.
It is also regarded as a condition of the immune system, which does not remove the menstrual fluid from the pelvic cavity, or attributed to active areas causing irritation or affecting other areas. Hence, other researchers are studying the role of the immune system that, if altered, may induce endometriosis.