If you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, then you may be aware that the disease occurs in four stages, and that not all endometriosis symptoms are present at each stage.
You probably also know that endometriosis can be difficult to treat at higher stages of the disease, where symptoms can cause infertility and perhaps a greater chance of reproductive cancers in the future. In order to understand the four stages of endometriosis, you need to understand how endometriosis occurs.
The menstrual blood released from a woman’s body every month is actually made up of muscle tissue and comes from the inner lining of the uterus. This inner lining, called the endometrium, thickens at the same time every month and is designed to be the future placenta, the halfway house of nutrients from mother to child. In some rare cases, the menstrual blood is not expelled from the body as it should be. Rather, it finds its way out of the uterus and into nearby bones, tissues and organ systems.
Once the pockets of endometrial tissue leave the uterus but not the body, then problems can occur for some women. Usually the immune system will deal with this rogue tissues however in some women the pockets of endometrial lining can adhere to certain bones and tissues, then shed and bleed each month in line with the menstrual cycle causing endometriosis.
This makes a woman suffering from endometriosis feel ‘heavy’ in her pelvic area. At its most extreme, endometriosis can result in progressive, severe pain that reach all the way into the lower back. The pockets of endometrial lining can also deposit themselves onto the surfaces of nearby organs, or migrate to areas such as the intestines or lungs, inhibiting organ function.
Women suffering from endometriosis will experience painful, irregular and often heavy periods. They may also bleed, or spot, in between menstrual periods. Women suffering from endometriosis can also experience pain during sexual intercourse and may find bowel movements painful. They can also experience frequent nausea and occassional vomiting. At its worst, endometriosis can lead to endometrial tissue blocking the fallopian tubes, causing infertility. Women with endometriosis are also more likely to have reproductive cancers in the future, especially ovarian cancer.
To diagnose endometriosis, doctors will conduct a pelvic exam, and will look for tenderness in the pelvic areas and organs, thickening or increase in mass of these same organs, or nodules that may be growing on the surface of the ovaries and uterus.
These signs, however, are also common to other cancers and reproductive disorders, so doctors supplement their diagnoses with comprehensive blood tests, x-rays, and even diagnostic surgery. Once endometrial deposits are found in the body, they are measured, and their color is determined. When these characteristics are taken into consideration, a doctor can then assign points to a patient and diagnose the woman as suffering from a specific stage of the disease.
In Stage 1, or minimal endometriosis, women will have a score of about 5 points, where there are only isolated incidents of the endometrial lining growing outside the uterus.
In Stage 2, or mild endometriosis, women will score as much as 15 points, and will have small endometrial implants outside the uterus, along with some areas of adhesions or scar tissue.
In Stage 3, or moderate endometriosis, women will score as high as 40 points, and will have implants that are deep, as well as several areas where adhesions and scar tissue are prominent.
Finally, Stage 4, or severe endometriosis occurs when women score over 40 points during diagnosis, will often be infertile, and will have many implants and large adhesions of endometrial lining in their bodies.
Not all endometriosis symptoms appear during the first few stages, so be sure to have an annual check up with your obstetrician or gynecologist. When the diagnosis is made, do as much research as you can, and ask your doctor as many questions as possible. The sooner you know what’s happening inside you — the sooner you can go about making it better!
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