Endometriosis: Beyond Menstrual Cramps

March 05, 2021

For most women, we know that when our period comes each month, we can expect a little pain – maybe a day or two of cramping, some short-lived aches in the lower back. But for 10% of women, that pain is “curl into the fetal position and weep” bad, and it’s due to a condition called endometriosis.
Little was known about endometriosis just a few decades ago. Doctors and family members of patients with endometriosis often dismissed the symptoms. They couldn’t believe the pain of a period could be that bad, and that it was all in a woman’s head. But endometriosis is very real thing that happens in a woman’s body and can cause debilitating pain and may even lead to infertility.

What It Is

Endometriosis or “endo” is named after the endometrium or tissue that normally lines the womb. Endometriosis happens when endometrium grows outside the uterus or on other organs.

The most common locations for endometriosis are:

  • Ovaries
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Tissue anchoring the uterus
  • The outside of the uterus

Growths are also found on the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder, or rectum.

The Symptoms

endometriosis

The most common symptom is pain. It has been described by some women as “killer cramps.” It happens because the tissue is growing where it shouldn’t, and your body can’t easily get rid of it.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Long or heavy periods
  • Migraines or lower back pain during periods
  • Pain when pooping or peeing during a period
  • Allergies are worse around a period
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Blood in the urine or rectum
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating
  • Trouble getting pregnant

Women with endometriosis do get pregnant, but researchers have found as many as half of the cases result in infertility.

It’s not clear how endometriosis causes infertility, but some theories include:

  • Blocking access to reproductive organs or changing their shape making it harder for sperm to find the egg
  • The immune system sometimes attacks the embryo
  • The uterine lining doesn’t develop so the egg can’t implant

Who Is at Risk?

Endometriosis can affect any woman who menstruates. Most women are diagnosed when they’re in their 30s and 40s.

You face a higher risk if:

  • Your mother, sister or daughter is diagnosed
  • You got your period before you were 11
  • Your monthly cycle is less than 27 days
  • Your cycles are heavy and longer than seven days

You can take a couple of steps to lower your risk, like exercising more than four hours a week or maintaining a low amount of body fat. You’re also at a lower risk if your period started in late adolescence or you’ve been pregnant before.

Treating endometriosis

endometriosis

A number of factors go into the treatment of endometriosis. Your symptoms, your condition, overall health, tolerance for certain treatments and medications, and the desire for pregnancy all play a role.
Doctors will usually recommend pain medication and pain management tips if the symptoms are mild”

Some tips for managing the pain include:

  • Warm baths
  • A heating pad or hot water bottle on the abdomen
  • Rest and relaxation
  • Meditation and other forms of self-care
  • Regular exercise
  • Plenty of fiber

Hormone therapy is another option. Oral contraception is used to prevent ovulation and reduce menstrual flow. Another hormone can be given which induces “medical menopause.” This suppresses the menstrual cycle and activity of the ovaries in an attempt to resolve the endometriosis.

There are also surgical techniques:

  • Laparoscopy — This is also used to diagnose endometriosis. A thin tube with a lens and light are inserted through the abdomen to give a view of the pelvic area. The doctor can also remove growths this way.
  • Laparotomy — This is a more involved procedure where the doctor moves as much of the tissue as possible without damaging healthy tissue.
  • Hysterectomy — This is often the last resort resulting in the removal of the uterus and ovaries.

Meeting Women’s Unique Needs

Women need compassionate care that is customized for the unique health issues they could face at each stage of life. AltaMed provides services that empower women grow healthy at every age.

These include:

  • Well-woman exams
  • Reproductive health
  • Routine screenings
  • Mammograms/breast health
  • Family planning
  • Health education
  • Health and wellness
  • Behavioral health

For more information about services, visit Womens-Health or call (888) 499-9303.

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Let’s Get Back on Track for Women’s Health Care

July 01, 2020

Even though COVID-19 has been our nation’s most pressing health concern for the past three months, breast cancer, cervical cancer, heart disease, and diabetes still threaten the health of our communities. Hopefully, you’ve been taking care of yourself, eating right, finding ways to exercise, and taking care of your mental health, but if you’re like most people, you’ve probably let your routine visits to the doctor slide. Health experts worry that, over time, we’ll see more cases of cancer at later stages, increased diabetes complications, and other health conditions that could have been caught early or prevented by routine, preventative care.

AltaMed is doing everything it takes to protect your health – that includes telehealth visits and keeping our facilities clean and sterilized according to the highest standards put forth by the Centers for Disease Control. While some common conditions and issues can be taken care of with a telephone or video chat with your doctor, there are still many preventive treatments and services for women that need to happen in person including routine mammograms, Pap tests, blood pressure screenings, and evaluations to determine if you are taking the right dosage of medication.

Many of these visits are covered at no charge by your health plan, so call us for details and to schedule!

Why You Need a Mammogram

Doctor checking radiography

Women have about a 1 in 8 chance that they’ll develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The best way to reduce your risk is to get a mammogram, an X-ray picture of the breast that can help doctors find early signs of breast cancer, sometimes even years before symptoms show up.

Your personal health risks and unique family history will determine when you should start getting mammograms. For healthy women of average risk, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends biennial (once every two years) mammograms beginning at age 50 through age 74. If you have a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you start getting mammograms as early as age 30. After that, you and your doctor can decide when at how often it’s appropriate to get screened.

In recent years, doctors and specialists have come to question the benefits of breast self-exams at home. Even though self-exams were recommended for years, they haven't been shown to be effective in detecting cancer or improving survival for women with breast cancer. Instead, doctors recommend that you become familiar with what your breasts normally look and feel like. If this changes, make an appointment to see your doctor.

How Often to Screen for Cervical Cancer

Patient suffering

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of death for women in the United States, but advances in Pap tests, including increased usage, cut cervical cancer deaths dramatically. Pap tests can save your life!

Pap tests are not just for those who are sexually active or still in their child-bearing years: the average age when women are diagnosed with cervical cancer is 50, and more than 20% of cases are found in women over the age of 65. Pap tests should be started early. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends:

  • If you are between the ages of 21 and 65, get a Pap test every three years
  • If you are between the ages of 30 and 65 and want to screen less frequently, you may be able to have a Pap smear with specific HPV testing every five years

Your doctor will make recommendations based on your own unique health history and your family history.

Schedule Your Well-Woman Visit

Patient listening

Well-woman visits are essential and should be scheduled in addition to your mammograms and Pap tests. They’re recommended for any woman of reproductive age or older (generally around 13 - 15) and can be scheduled through a primary care doctor or an OB/GYN.

Because well-woman visits focus on preventive care, each visit may be slightly different based on your age and your unique health needs. Your visit may include:

  • Age-appropriate immunizations (for example, the flu vaccine or a TD shot, if needed)
  • Age-appropriate health screenings, which could include checking your blood pressure or a pelvic floor exam
  • Recommendations for additional testing to screen for cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or depression, as needed

In addition to asking about your health history, your doctor may ask about any health goals and make recommendations to help you achieve those goals. To make the most of these visits, come prepared: think about any health questions you have, in advance, and take notes.

We’re Here for Every Age and Every Stage of Your Life

Woman heart signalTrust AltaMed to support your unique health needs. From primary care and specialists to dentistry, behavioral health services, and pharmacy, we are dedicated to caring for women and those they love. Schedule an appointment today.

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.

There’s So Much You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

January 01, 2020

Even though the number of cervical cancer cases has been dropping for the last 40 years, Latina and African American women have the highest rates of any group in the United States. And cervical cancer kills Latinas and African American women at a much higher rate than it does Caucasian women.

Unlike diseases that are genetic or inherited, the high rates of cervical cancer in our communities are due to behavior – not getting routine Pap smears and not knowing about HPV and its highly effective vaccination.

Our prescription for fighting cervical cancer? Knowledge! Read on to learn about how women of every age can protect themselves and reduce their risks.

What is Cervical Cancer?
diagram

Cervical cancer happens when an abnormal group of cells starts growing in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus (where a baby grows during pregnancy). These are cells that start out normal but become pre-cancerous. In some women, these pre-cancerous cells go away on their own. In other women, these cells will turn into cervical cancer over several years – and occasionally, these cells turn into cancer in less than a year. The most common type of cervical cancer is called squamous cell carcinomas, though there are other types of cancer than can develop in the cervix.

Cervical cancer symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, or pain during sex. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms occur, it’s likely that that cancer has already spread to nearby tissues.

When cervical cancer is caught early and treated, the outcome is very good, with a survival rate as high as 93% — that is, 93% of women who find cervical cancer at the earliest stages are still alive five years after their diagnosis or start of treatment. However, the longer cancer is left undetected and untreated the further it can spread through the body—and become more deadly.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?
cells

HPV, or human papillomavirus doesn’t cause cervical cancer 100% of the time, but an HPV infection is the biggest risk factor for getting it.
HPV is spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is already infected with the virus. Even if the infected person has no signs or symptoms, they can still pass along HPV to a sex partner. In some cases, HPV goes away on its own and doesn’t cause health problems however, it’s best to take steps to avoid infection.

The best protection against it is the HPV vaccine: studies showed that the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in protecting against cervical precancer. The CDC recommends starting the vaccination at age 11 or 12. Women can also get it up to age 26. Check with your regular doctor for additional information.

Preventing Cervical Cancer
woman getting a shot

In addition to the getting the HPV vaccine, your best defense is seeing your doctor or gynecologist regularly. The Pap smear is the first way doctors look for the abnormal cells. Women age 21 – 65 should receive Pap smears every three years, or women age 30-65 can be tested every 5 years if an HPV test is done at the same time as the Pap smear. Your doctor will give you the tests that are right for you.

As with many cancers, you may have inherited an increased risk from your family. There are still things you can do to protect yourself and cut your risks. Here are ways you can act immediately:

  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Practice safe sex – since some sexually transmitted diseases may increase your risk or leave you vulnerable

How to Make Your Gynecologist Screenings More Comfortable
woman at doctor

You can empower yourself to have a comfortable and productive visit with your gynecologist by taking some of the following steps:

  • Ask to see a female doctor if you’re not comfortable with a male doctor.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you in the exam room.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop the exam and ask questions.
  • Know that whatever is happening with your body is normal and natural – and your doctor has seen it all before.
  • Understand that your visit may be a little uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If, at any time during the exam, you feel actual pain, tell your doctor.

If you don’t have a regular gynecologist or you’d like to find someone who speaks your language, AltaMed is here for you. Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on your preferences. You can choose the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and the city – you’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.