What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis… a condition that affects ~6-10% of menstruators of reproductive age. March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, so this month’s blog posts are dedicated to this condition.

It’s an inflammatory condition in which tissue similar to your innermost uterine layer, the endometrium (which is the layer we shed during a period) grows outside of the endometrium. This tissue — usually called endometriosis lesions — can be found in the gut, around the ovaries, in the rectum, and even as far as the lungs!

Signs & Symptoms

Like most menstrual conditions, endometriosis can look like a lot of things. Typically, here are some things that can come up:

  • Period pain: In fact, endometriosis is the most common cause of secondary dysmenorrhea — period pain that is caused by an underlying condition
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding, potentially with clots
  • Dyspareunia: Pain with penetrative intercourse
  • Dyschezia: Pain with bowel movements
  • Dysuria: Pain with urination
  • Mid-cycle spotting: Light bleeding outside of your period 
  • Infertility: There is an association between endometriosis and infertility; however, it’s not a linear one. This can be due to inflammation, adhesions, where endometriosis lesions are present, past surgery complications, and much more.
  • Chronic pelvic pain: This is pain in the lower abdominal area that is present in some form for over 6 months.
  • Digestive issues: There is a relationship between IBS and endometriosis.

What causes endometriosis?

The short answer: we don’t fully understand endometriosis.

The long answer is a bit more convoluted. What we do know is this: there is a big inflammatory component. There’s a high amount of oxidative stress (which is what we need antoxidants for, basically). Put another way, there’s lots of inflammatory compounds and not enough of a capacity to keep up with the pace at which that’s happening. 

We’re not entirely sure why this happens. Is it because there are some genetic or epigenetic (how genes are influenced by the environment) changes in the body’s natural detoxification pathways? Is it because there is a bigger inflammatory response created in people with endometriosis? Are there other immunological mechanisms at play? Are there neurological changes, i.e., how the nervous system responds to the higher inflammation present? It’s hard to say.

What we do know is this:

Endometriosis is underdiagnosed. And, we need to do better to support people with endometriosis. 

I’ll share more on diagnosis and support in my next blog post. Stay tuned.