One of the biggest medical conditions that women are finally being vocal about.
Last month Lena Dunham had to cancel her press tour for the new season of "Girls" because of her endometriosis. Although she's touched on her condition before on "Lenny Letters," this is a very real problem that needs to be discussed more. What is endometriosis?For most women, the lining of your uterus grows inside your uterus over the course of your menstrual cycle, and then it sheds itself if you don't become pregnant. However, in endometriosis, the lining grows outside the uterus, typically on your reproductive organs. This problem affects up to 10 percent of women in the U.S., but an even bigger problem is for a woman to actually get this diagnosis. "Every individual manifests pain differently," says Carolyn Alexander, MD, of the Southern California Reproductive Center. "One person may have very little endometriosis and have a lot of pain, while another person may have a lot of scar tissue and really severe endometriosis and very minimal pain." Signs you may have endometriosis:The first and most obvious sign is excruciating abdominal pain. This pain can pop up a day or so before you period and will mimic cramps. Your normal cramps may even be more intense too. Sex or urination may also be painful during this time. Some women experience chronic lower back pain.Irregular periods that are unusually heavy are fairly standard, paired with extreme fatigue. However, Dr. Alexander is quick to mention that the only way to know for sure is to undergo a laparoscopy procedure: "A small camera goes into the belly button surgically. From there, [they] can take a biopsy of the tissue and send it for pathology to show that it's endometriosis."What causes endometriosis? It's still unknown what exactly causes this condition. Some researchers have suggested that it could be due to estrogen levels, genetics, the immune system, or the way tissues shed during the menstrual cycle. Also, having a low body mass index and high alcohol intake can increase your risk. What are the effects?Besides the agonizing pain, endometriosis is linked to infertility later in life. "In fact, endometriosis can affect fertility in five different ways," Dr. Alexander says. "First, it can make it harder for your fallopian tubes to catch the egg at ovulation. It can also make it harder for the embryo to stick inside of the uterus... The environment around the egg can also be a little different due to changes in the follicular fluid around the egg," she says. "And it can also affect inflammatory markers in the fluid inside the abdominal cavity." Finally, the egg quality can be different, she says. "But this can also be caused by age."How is it treated? There's no specific cure for endometriosis, but you can manage your symptoms. Your doctor will most likely place you on a hormonal birth control pill to regulate your periods. Other medical options include progesterone-only pills or an aromatase inhibitor, which helps with painful periods.You can have surgery to remove the endometriosis patches, but the chances of them coming back are very high. Educate yourself more on this condition so you can help others who may be unaware that a diagnosis is just within their reach.