Endometriosis, the trouble it can cause, and how to treat it

Published: Aug. 13, 2018 at 6:10 PM EDT
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One out of every ten women in America suffers from a disease so painful it threatens her fertility, her sex life and her overall well-being. But a minimally-invasive procedure is helping end the nightmare of endometriosis.

“That was fun wasn’t it? Good memories.”

Michelle Joyce looks back on fun times and the pain.

“I started out having heavy periods,” Joyce said. “There were times when I just couldn’t get out of bed. The pain was so severe.”

She struggled from doctor to doctor before the answer came.

“Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing pelvic pain, abdominal pain, chest pain, bowel and bladder symptoms as well as infertility,” says Ken Sinervo, Medical Director of the Center for Endometriosis Care.

Patients are often misdiagnosed.

“There is a very long delay with diagnosis averaging between nine and 12 years,” Sinervo said.

But once doctors are sure what the problem is, a CO2 laser can be used to remove the disease while sparing healthy tissue.

“So you can use that and use it safely for excision over very vital structures,” Sinervo said. “Underneath the ovaries, behind the uterus, over the bladder.”

Doctor Sinervo says the traditional ablation procedure burns and destroys the tissue and laparoscopic excision is much more effective.

“With well performed excision performed by an expert the recurrence rate could be as little as five or ten percent,” Sinervo said.

The CO2 procedure can take several hours but the impact is immediate.

“When I woke up and I didn’t feel that pain anymore, it’s indescribable,” Joyce said.

She’s already living an active life with her daughters that she worried would never again be possible.

“I feel like I’m going to be turning over a new leaf of a pain-free life,” Joyce said.

And giving other women hope for a healthier future.

The Lumenis CO2 Excision Laser Procedure is covered by some insurance companies but can cost thousands of dollars.

Doctor Sinervo says the best advice for patients is to be your own advocate.

If you think you have endometriosis, get help. There is relief out there.


REPORT #2554

BACKGROUND: Endometriosis, sometimes called "endo," is a common health problem in women. It gets its name from the word endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the uterus or womb. Endometriosis happens when this tissue grows outside of your uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn't belong. Most often, it can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, tissues that hold the uterus in place, or outer surface of the uterus. Endometriosis may affect more than 11 percent of American women between 15 and 44. It is especially common among women in their 30’s and 40’s and may make it harder to get pregnant. You might be more likely to get endometriosis if you have never had children, menstrual periods that last more than seven days, short menstrual cycles (27 days or fewer), a family member with endometriosis, or a health problem that blocks the normal flow of menstrual blood from your body during your period.


SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT: Pain is the most common symptom women with endometriosis experience. There can be different kinds of pain, which include painful menstrual cramps that get worse over time, chronic pain in the lower back and pelvis, pain during or after sex, intestinal pain, painful bowel movements or pain when urinating during menstrual periods. In rare cases, you may also find blood in your stool or urine. Infertility is another symptom, and, stomach problems including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea, especially during menstrual periods. There is no cure for endometriosis, but treatments are available for the symptoms and problems it causes. If you’re not trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control is generally the first step in treatment. Hormonal treatment works only as long as it is taken and is best for women who do not have severe pain or symptoms. If you are trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist. This medicine stops the body from making the hormones responsible for ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. It causes a temporary menopause, but it also helps control the growth of endometriosis. Finally, surgery is usually chosen for severe symptoms when hormones are not providing relief or if you are having fertility problems.


NEW POSSIBILITIES IN ENDOMETRIOSIS RESEARCH: Researchers have created a lab model of an entire female reproductive system, a game-changing invention that opens up a world of possibilities for researchers studying endometriosis. Until now, scientists have had to study cells in lab dishes and animal models to understand what was going on in women with the disease. Although the model has the characteristic appearance of advanced lab equipment, it contains a complete set of ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina, and liver, all connected by a blood-like fluid. “This is nothing short of a revolutionary technology,” Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said. The organs in the model influence each other by secreting hormones and other substances, mimicking the real-life biological process. “This mimics what actually happens in the body,” Woodruff said. “In 10 years, this technology, called microfluidics, will be the prevailing technology for biological research.”


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