Pain with intercourse.
Pain with bowel movements or urination.
These are just some of the symptoms associated with a disorder that has been found to occur in 7-10% of US women in the general population and found in 50% of teenagers with extremely painful periods. Things found to increase the risk of this condition are very common in a number of women and include stuff like beginning menses at an early age, extended menstrual flow (>7 days), delay in pregnancy, and heavy bleeding during the menstrual cycle.
What’s probably the most concerning is that if it is left untreated this same disorder can lead to infertility and even ovarian cancer. That is, until a study was published in an American Heart Association Journal (Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes) stating that women age 40 or younger were at a disproportionately higher risk to suffer cardiovascular symptoms and disease if they were confirmed to have this issue laparoscopically.
How disproportionate? Well the women in the study that were confirmed to have this disease were three times as likely to develop heart attack, chest pain, or need treatment for blocked arteries, compared to women without the condition. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital followed 120,000 women over 20 years for this data and found that nearly 12,000 participants had suffered with this condition. So compared to women without it, women with the condition experienced:
- 52% increased risk of heart attack
- 91% increased risk of developing chest pain(angina)
- 35% increased risk of needing surgery or stinting to open blocked arteries (coronary artery bypass grafting or CABG)
So enough about all the numbers. The most important question on your mind now is what is the condition causing all these symptoms and complications? Better yet, what can I do to make sure that this isn’t something me or my loved one is going to deal with or has already had at some point? Well this infamous disorder is called endometriosis and it occurs when there is a growth of the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrial tissue) in other places within the body.
This misplaced tissue responds to changes in women’s hormone levels much like it would if it remained in the uterus. To put it more plainly, imagine the tissue that should be in the uterus causing a “period” (and all the things that go along with it) wherever it’s located in the body. This can lead to a large amount of damage via an inflammatory response consisting of neovascularization and fibrosis formation.
Just about any organ system within the body can be affected by this misplaced tissue, and the exact cause of endometriosis is poorly understood. One of the most likely causes is something called retrograde menstruation, which is when menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. These displaced endometrial cells stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs, where they grow and continue to thicken and bleed over the course of each menstrual cycle. Other possible causes include surgical scar implantation (after a surgery, such as a hysterectomy or C-section, endometrial cells may attach to a surgical incision) and endometrial cells transport (blood vessels or the lymphatic system transports endometrial cells to other parts of the body).
So now you have your answer to the first question we can now go back to the second question, and that is what can be done about this condition? Well there is an extensive list of potential ways to treat endometriosis and that list includes things like different hormone therapies (birth control medication or medication that halts the growth of the endometrium). If those don’t work then you may have to move to more invasive alternatives like surgery on the endometrial tissue directly or removal of the uterus altogether (hysterectomy).
Yet, another interesting fact about the study that was mentioned earlier was that having had a hysterectomy was also found to have an association with higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared with not having had a hysterectomy. (Now ain’t that something!) Since treatment may be as much of an issue as the condition itself I must mention another type of way to deal with some of these issues. That method is called prevention.
The recommendations for prevention are usually a lot cheaper and offer less potential complications than medications and surgeries. So please don’t be surprised that they are things like eating a healthy diet and staying active by doing at least 30 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity per day. Physical activity can help to improve pain symptoms associated with heart disease and in some cases endometriosis. It’s also recommended to maintain a healthy weight and losing weight since the latter can decrease chronic inflammation, which is one of the key issues with both endometriosis and cardiovascular disease. Other things include quitting (or do not start) smoking and taking warm baths which can help relax pelvic muscles, reducing cramping, and improve pain.
In all, you should consult with a doctor or healthcare provider about any questions, symptoms, treatments, or prevention measures before beginning them. I hope this has been a helpful post and thanks for reading.
– Supreme Soul