What is endometriosis? or ulcerative colitis? Pretty much everyone knows what asthma is--so many people have it that, I must admit, unless I'm especially sick, I don't feel like my lungs are that unique. I take my meds, watch my peak flow, and am pretty much OK (unless I'm living in Utah, where the air quality is quite poor). Allergies are hard, I have to keep my living space super clean, and the attacks can be scary but other than that, it's not that bad. It's manageable. I can still be healthy with it.
But the other two? Those aren't so simple. And less common--especially together. Others still deal with them. But they're both such spectrum diseases, and the fact that they coexist in the same area makes them ridiculously tricky. And if you don't know what they are even separately--well, here's my explanation. I'm studying neuropsychology, which means I've got a fair college background with anatomy and biology, and I hope with that headstart I can write my understanding of the disease down clear and concise. But I'm afraid I can't explain them without somewhat interlacing my experiences and feelings. Hope that's ok :).
First, for today, endometriosis--here is a basic explanation. Warning, this is a female disease of the uterus--I've given the least detailed/graphic description possible, but if 'lady parts' gross you out, then don't read it. It's a scientific explanation though, a basic one too.
It's estimated that up to 10% of women have this disease--which is significant, considering how unknown the disease is. It's become increasingly common the past couple decades, due to better diagnosing techniques and (suspected) effects of environmental toxic dumping of chemicals and additive hormones in foods. We're poisoning ourselves! But what is it?
This is a disease where tissue, much like the kind that periodically lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside the uterus. These cells start growing in small colonies (implants) all sorts of places, such as the outside of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, intestines, rectum, bladder, pevlic lining--pretty much anywhere in the abdominal cavity it can migrate (depending on how aggressive it is). From these small initial colonies, these cells can grow into larger implants, that can cause scar tissue, huge masses and/or adhesions that stick organs to one another. Meaning the uterus could be stuck to the intestines by these endometrial tissue adhesions (scar tissue bridges between the two). Theories that explain endometriosis range (as it is still not understood) but according to my doctor, the most current notable theory argues that normally the immune system can clean up stray endometrial cells, but in those with endometriosis, something has caused a failure in the clean up. This would explain why it more frequently co-occurs with other autoimmune diseases.
The primary problems with this disease are wild hormones, pain, and infertility.
The exact cause and effect nature of hormonal disruption for this disease is complicated. The endometrial implants release hormones into your body, the worst of which are pro-inflammatory and increase an already painful situation. Mood swings are intense and women with endometriosis are more likely to struggle with intermittent depression. Menstural cycles are insane--(somewhat graphic warning for the next sentence if you're male ha ha)--by 'heavy and long mensturation' I suppose they are referring to my 3-5 week periods and the fact that no normal birth control has managed to stop them.
The pain is awful. Cramps are so bad that leaving bed is not always an option. They overwhelm my nerves and walking around is sometimes impossible because I am cramped up from my chest down to my ankles. All my muscles and intestines knot up and I'm embarassed to say how much I cry at times from pain. Even aside from cramping, when it's other times of the 'month', pain is still an issue. Abdominal and back pain is chronic. And with the severe scar tissue problems I've been having, I have screamingly bad pain in my lower right abdominal quadrant that requires me to pretty much live on oxycodone. For the past 2 1/2 months. The more I move around, the worse the pain gets. Certain foods make the pain worse. Stress makes the pain worse. The chemicals the endometrial implants shed irritate my organs. And the pulls and tugs of these adhesions hurt my body so much. Hurt hurt hurt, pain pain pain, I feel like that's my life.
The last primary problem is a bit sensitive to talk about. Endometriosis can cause infertility, but it doesn't always cause it. No one knows if the disease has made or will make them infertile until they start trying to have children. Sometimes having children can greatly relieve symptoms. But I'm 22, not married, and not interested in starting having children until I'm 28-30. So that's not an option.
Endometriosis is currently impossible to cure. Treatment options include pain management, hormone therapy, and surgery. Surgery becomes necessary when scar tissue and implants have become severe enough to interfere with normal life. Also, scar tissue and hormone problems of endometrisosis increase rates of ovarian cysts, especially large ones, and sometimes surgical removal of them is necessary. If they rupture, it's incredibly painful and can be life threatening. When surgery isn't yet an option, pain management is carried out, with anti-inflammatories like advil and occasionally narcotic pain killers. Hormone therapy is preventative and long term. It's meant to stop or at least moderate the growth and perioidic shedding of the endometrial It can involve, for more simple cases, simply taking low dose birth control 3 weeks out of the month. Some involve hormonal implants. For severe cases, and what I'll likely end up doing, doctors administer shots of a drug called lupron, which induces temporary menopause. It causes the endometrial tissue to shrink up and die, and when you go on birth control after, it can keep it from growing back. So they remove the scar tissue with surgery, control the growth afterwards with hormones, and maybe I'll have a normal life again.
That's my explanation of endometriosis--I'll do ulcerative colitis tomorrow, that's a lot to write!