Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects up to 10% of Canadian women, and is the result of tissue that would normally line the inside of the uterus instead growing outside of the uterus.
The most common complaint Dr. Ali Ghahary hears from those with endometriosis is pelvic pain, usually associated with the menstrual cycle. While it is not uncommon for women to experience pain and cramping during their period, those with endometriosis tend to have pain that is worse than usual. Other common symptoms of endometriosis include excessive bleeding, painful urination, pain during or after intercourse, fatigue, bloating and nausea. Complications from endometriosis include infertility, with up to one-third of women with endometriosis having difficulty getting pregnant, as well as seeing an increased number of women being diagnosed with ovarian cancer as opposed to those who do not have endometriosis.
While the exact cause of endometriosis is not known, theories have suggested that it may be the result of blood containing endometrial cells breaking into the pelvic cavity rather than out of the body. It has also been speculated that surgical procedures such as C-sections may also cause endometriosis. The risk of developing endometriosis increases if you’ve never given birth, have a history of chronic pelvic infections, have relatives with endometriosis (mother/sister/aunt), or have been diagnosed with other uterine abnormalities.
Endometriosis is often mistaken for other medical conditions that can also cause pelvic pain such as PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), thus complicating the diagnosis. Pelvic exams, ultrasounds and laparoscopies are the common tests performed to diagnose endometriosis.
Pain control is imperative for those with endometriosis, as it can be quite a debilitating condition depending on the severity of the symptoms. Over-the-counter pain medications such as NSAIDs are always tried as the first option of treatment, as well as other home-remedies such as heating pads and warm baths; this will help to reduce cramps and calm the pelvic muscles. Hormone therapy such as birth control is also used to reduce the length of the menstrual cycle, which should suppress the pain associated with endometriosis. A complete hysterectomy may be performed, but usually only as a last resort and when all other avenues have been exhausted.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are two common disorders of the digestive system. These disorders affect as many as 5 million Canadians, with approximately 120,000 individuals in Canada being diagnosed with IBS every year. In fact, Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS diagnoses in the world today. While the symptoms of IBS and IBD are very similar, it is important to understand that the two are not the same condition and they have contrasting treatment regimens.
Unlike IBD, IBS is considered to be the lesser evil of the two. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the fact that while IBD is an indicator for other gastro-related illnesses and causes the intestines to become inflamed, IBS does not. IBS can, however, cause profuse discomfort and anguish, with symptoms such as persistent abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation – oftentimes alternating. These symptoms can range from being mild to severe, and they can disturb one’s self-image, ability to work, and overall quality of life. Individuals with IBS generally do not show any signs of any severe disease when examined, so a diagnosis is almost always dependent on the symptoms presented by the patient to their physician. Common complaints and symptoms of IBS that Dr. Ali Ghahary sees in patients include bloating, gassiness, nausea, and the inability to move the bowels despite urgency. IBS can be caused by certain medications, dietary changes, hormonal changes and stress. Treatment includes antidiarrheal medications, fiber supplements, and stress relief.
IBD, on the other hand, affects 1 in every 150 Canadians, and can be a direct cause of severe gastrointestinal diseases known as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease – both of which are accompanied by inflammation of the bowel. Symptoms of IBD include weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. In severe cases, low-grade fevers and bloody stools may also be present. These are red flags that should not be ignored. IBD is diagnosed with blood tests, stool tests, CT scans or endoscopes, and is commonly treated with several types of medications: Aminosalicylates (to help control inflammation), Antibiotics (to help those who may develop an infection known as C. Difficile), Corticosteroids (to treat sudden onset of IBD-related flare-ups), Immunomodulators (to quiet the immune system and reduce inflammation), and biologic therapies (to block proteins that may produce inflammation.)