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What is Endometriosis?
BY MARY LOU BALLWEG

Endometriosis affects an estimated 5.5 million women in North America alone, and millions more throughout the world.

Endometriosis is a chronic disease in which tissue like the lining of the uterus grows in or on other parts of the body. It usually occurs in the abdomen—the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, or intestines—but it can implant any where in the body.

The tissue responds to the hormones of a woman's cycle, and builds up and bleeds every month. Unfortunately, there is no way for this rogue tissue to leave the body. Internal bleeding and scarring, formation of adhesions, growths, and cysts, and interference with bladder or bowel functions are some of the possible results. Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility, pelvic pain, and hysterectomy.

The symptoms of endometriosis include: pelvic pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset during menstruation, bloating, heavy or irregular bleeding, pain with or after sex, and headaches. Endometriosis can only be diagnosed through laparoscopic surgery. Treatments exist but there is no definitive cure.

According to the largest survey of women with endometriosis ever (4,000+ women in North America), women with endometriosis have a higher rate of allergies, asthma, and eczema than the general population. Women with endometriosis and their families also have a heightened risk of breast cancer, melanoma, and ovarian cancer. There is a greater risk of non- Hodgkin's lymphoma in their families. In addition, women with this disease and their families have higher than normal rates of diabetes, thyroid disorders, and other immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

WHAT CAUSES ENDOMETRIOSIS?

Many theories exist about the origin of the disease, but the cause of endometriosis is still unknown.

As industrialization and its pollutants have spread throughout the world, so have the diseases associated with dioxins, which are carcinogenic chemicals that act as immunosuppressive agents. Endometriosis was directly linked to dioxin exposure in a groundbreaking study sponsored by the Endometriosis Association in 1993.

WHAT CAN A WOMAN WITH ENDOMETRIOSIS DO?

Women with endometriosis should learn as much as possible about the disease and its treatments. Support groups and other women with endometriosis can be very helpful in finding physical and emotional relief from the symptoms and effects of this disease. Association research found that 62 percent of respondents who tried a change in diet reported an improvement in symptoms. Immunotherapy, or candidiasis treatment, was the most successful treatment, and it helped 65 percent of respondents.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

The Endometriosis Sourcebook (Contemporary Books, 1995), has additional information on endometriosis and dioxins. The Association is at work on a third book which will further address immunotherapy, as well as endometriosis prevention and other topics. To join the Endometriosis Association, call 414.355.2200 during business hours, or log onto the website: www.EndometriosisAssn.org.


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