Bowel endometriosis is a serious condition that typically develops when the abnormal growths of the uterus spread to the nearby digestive tract. It occurs when tissues from the endometrium grow on the surface of the bowel (e.g., colon, intestines).
The symptoms of bowel endometriosis, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, can mimic those of other gastrointestinal disorders. Due to these overlapping symptoms, bowel endometriosis is frequently mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, appendicitis and in some cases even colon cancer.
In one case, a 42-year-old woman complained of abdominal symptoms (e.g., bloating, gas, diarrhea). The presence of these symptoms and an abdominal mass made surgeons think of colon cancer and remove a part of the intestines and the uterus. After analyzing the resected tissues, the mass was revealed as endometriosis and not colon cancer. This case demonstrates how bowel endometriosis can be mistaken for cancer.
Due to these potential overlaps in symptoms, accurate diagnosis of bowel endometriosis requires a thorough evaluation by gynecologists and colorectal surgeons.
Does bowel endometriosis cause infertility? The short answer is yes.
Up to 50% of bowel endometriosis cases will suffer from infertility. In reality, the involvement of the bowel is not the direct cause of infertility. It’s simply the fact that bowel endometriosis almost always means that the reproductive organs are loaded with endometrial growths, which disrupt fertility.
For example, when abnormal growths occur within the uterus, they disrupt the implantation of the fertilized egg. If these growths develop on the ovaries, the eggs are prone to damage, which complicates the conception process.
Moreover, endometriosis increases risks during pregnancy and childbirth. A systematic review found that pregnant women with bowel endometriosis are at a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and the abnormal implantation of the placenta (e.g., placenta previa).
Luckily, it’s still possible for women to get pregnant through assistive procedures, such as intrauterine insemination and IVF (in-vitro fertilization).
Complications of untreated bowel endometriosis can obstruct the bladder and bowel. This develops after the endometrial adhesions encircle the intestines, bladder, and rectum. As a result, patients may develop severe constipation that can even become mechanical bowel obstruction.
Interestingly, the exact opposite can also occur. In other words, a subset of patients may develop urinary and bowel incontinence, where urine output and defecation become uncontrollable.
Chronic inflammation of the bowel may also develop. Unfortunately, this could precipitate chronic pain that alters the patient’s quality of life. In this case, the only effective management plan may be to resect the affected section of the bowel.
Stage 4 bowel endometriosis commonly exhibits symptoms of deep infiltrating bowel endometriosis. This presents as severe pelvic pain, abdominal pain, abnormal bowel movement (e.g., diarrhea, constipation), rectal pain, and bowel obstruction.
Bowel endometriosis itself is not considered a cancerous condition. However, it’s crucial to note that endometriosis, in general, has been associated with a slightly increased risk of a type of ovarian cancer called endometrioid ovarian cancer. The risk is still relatively low, and most individuals with endometriosis do not develop cancer.
Seeking timely medical attention is essential for those experiencing symptoms of bowel endometriosis to ensure accurate diagnosis and effective management. Early intervention is key in relieving symptoms, averting complications, and enhancing overall outcomes.
If you suspect you may have bowel endometriosis or are experiencing related symptoms, call 310-861-7493 to schedule a consultation with one of our colorectal surgeons who specialize in treating bowel endometriosis.
Surgery Group LA is a team of professional and board-licensed surgeons, who specialize of their respective fields. The institution’s project to offer sufferers with advanced and complete surgical care.
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