Crippling menstrual cramps, gastrointestinal problems, and pain
during sex are among the most common and distressing symptoms of
endometriosis, a gynecological disorder that affects as many as 1 in 10
women. Although endometriosis symptoms are most troubling during the
reproductive years, they don’t necessarily disappear once a woman stops
menstruating, reports the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus shows up on the
walls of the abdominal cavity and the outer surfaces of the uterus,
ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel, bladder, and nearby organs. Like the
uterine lining, this tissue builds up and sheds monthly in response to
the menstrual cycle. But rather than exiting through the vagina, the
way menstrual fluid does, it remains trapped, triggering inflammation
and scar tissue.
Estrogen fuels the
growth of endometriosis, so in theory, dwindling estrogen levels at
menopause should lessen the symptoms. But even after periods have
ceased, the ovaries continue to produce small amounts of the hormone,
so endometriosis may continue to cause trouble. “I think of
endometriosis as a chronic disease that often — but not always —
improves after natural or surgical menopause,” says Dr. Martha K.
Richardson, editorial board member of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
with endometriosis also have a higher-than-average risk of autoimmune
disorders and related problems, such as chronic fatigue syndrome,
hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia. They’re also more likely to develop
ovarian cancer. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests that if you
have endometriosis, be sure to have annual checkups and any tests
recommended by your clinician.