Endometriosis is a disease that affects women and their reproductive system. It occurs when the tissue that normally lines inside the uterus, the endometrium, grows outside the uterus. The damaged tissue is usually known as endometriosis patches, implants, nodules or lesions and it is found in the pelvic cavity, including on or under the ovaries, on the fallopian tubes, which carry egg cells from the ovaries to the uterus, behind the uterus, on the tissues that hold the uterus in place, on the bowels or bladder, and in rare cases, on the lungs or in other parts of the body.
The main symptoms of endometriosis are pain, and infertility, but patients can also experience painful, even debilitating, menstrual cramps, pain during or after sex, pain in the intestine or lower abdomen, painful bowel movements or painful urination during menstrual periods, heavy menstrual periods, premenstrual spotting or bleeding between periods, painful bladder syndrome, digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms similar to a bowel disorder, fatigue, tiredness, and lack of energy. There is no cure for endometriosis, but early diagnosis may improve the treatment of the disease.
Overall Health Tests to Diagnose Endometriosis
Before undergoing diagnostic tests, patients are submitted to a full medical examination to evaluate their overall health. During this examination, women are asked about their family and medical history, since endometriosis and numerous other disease may be inherited, as well as the symptoms experienced and its severity, and menstrual periods.
Pelvic Exam as Part of Endometriosis Tests
If a physician suspects endometriosis, a series of tests may be requested, including a pelvic exam. During this procedure, the physician manually palpates the pelvis area to search for abnormalities like cysts on the reproductive organs or scars behind the uterus. The pelvic exam does not confirm the diagnosis of endometriosis alone, and it is often not possible to feel small endometrial patches unless they’ve caused the formation of a cyst. However, these type of tests help understand the condition before more extreme diagnostic methods.
Ultrasound as Part of Endometriosis’ Diagnostic Tests
In addition to the pelvic exam, an ultrasound is also a common test used for preliminary evaluation of patients suspected to suffer from endometriosis. During an ultrasound, high-frequency sound waves are used to create images of the interior of the body. This is accomplished through the use a transducer device, which is pressed against the abdomen or inserted into the vagina, being both able to provide imaging of the reproductive organs. Despite the use of this test to identify cysts associated with endometriosis, it does not provide a confirmation of the diagnosis as well.
Laparoscopy as Part of Endometriosis Tests
Laparoscopy is currently the only method to confirm an endometriosis diagnosis, but it is a surgical procedure, which is why other tests are usually tried first. During a laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a small incision near the navel to insert a slender viewing instrument called laparoscope, while the patient is under general anesthesia. Then, the surgeon observes the abdomen for signs of endometriosis, which means endometrial tissue outside the uterus. The laparoscopy provides information on the location, extent and size of the lesions to define a more appropriate treatment plan. In some cases, the surgeon may remove a sample of tissue to analyze in a biopsy as well.
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