Endometriosis (endo) is described as having four distinct stages.
The stage you are diagnosed with doesn’t necessarily correlate with how severe your symptoms are.
Many clinicians are choosing to move away from these categorizations.
This article looks at the four stages in more detail, so you can better understand your diagnosis.
It’s important to remember the stage of your endo doesn’t dictate how lousy you will feel.
Some women with stage 1 find it negatively affects their everyday life, while others with more advanced endo might have few to no symptoms.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory gynecological condition. Tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes. These growths are called endometriosis implants.
The endometrial tissue outside the uterus thickens and bleeds, just like the normal endometrium in the uterus does during your menstrual cycle.
In very rare cases, the lining has been found in the lungs or brain.
Endometriosis is a common condition affecting 1 in 10 women. Many experts, however, believe the real number to be much higher.
It’s a long-term condition that can affect women of any age.
Endometriosis implants can be debilitating, and can have a huge impact on sufferers, affecting both their physical and mental health.
Symptoms of endometriosis
The main symptoms of this condition are:
- Heavy periods
- Period pain
- Pain during or after sex
- Pelvic pain
- Ovulation pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Symptoms similar to those of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Bladder problems.
Some sufferers find themselves badly affected, both physically and mentally, and others may be have no symptoms (asymptomatic).
Unsurprisingly, a chronic pelvic pain condition such as endo can be associated with depression. Endo can be a debilitating condition and some sufferers struggle with their mental health as a result.
If you are suffering from mental health problems, please talk to your healthcare advisor. Counseling might help to improve your mental health.
Endometriosis is often misdiagnosed or dismissed by healthcare providers. Often sufferers are prescribed birth control pills or implants that do little to treat endo.
The condition can go undiagnosed for years and many women struggle because healthcare providers dismiss their pain.
If you think you’re suffering from endo, it’s important to find a supportive doctor who understands the condition.
Your healthcare provider can provide medical advice, diagnosis, and endometriosis treatments.
When to seek medical help for endometriosis
If you think you are suffering from symptoms of endo, you should speak to your healthcare provider. Untreated endo can lead to chronic pain, bladder problems, ovarian cysts, and infertility.
Many women don’t realize they have endo until they seek medical help for fertility problems.
There are four stages of endometriosis, ranging from mild to severe. These stages are categorized based on the location, amount, and depth of the endometrial tissue.
The stages don’t take into account the amount of pain or symptoms which might be present.
Many experts are moving away from classifying the condition in stages because it is seen as an outdated tool.
How do you know what stage of endometriosis you have?
In order to give you a full diagnosis, your healthcare provider will perform a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy.
Laparoscopy is carried out under general anesthetic, so you’ll be asleep during the procedure. A small camera is inserted into your abdomen to identify signs of the condition, such as lesions.
There are four stages of endometriosis, as explained below. Endo is sometimes diagnosed using a point system:
- 15 points or fewer indicates mild endometriosis to moderate endometriosis
- 16 points and above is indicative of severe endometriosis.
Stage 1 endometriosis
Stage 1 endometriosis is categorized by small patches or lesions on or around the organs in the pelvis. There is little or no scar tissue present.
Stage 2 endometriosis
Second-stage endometriosis is categorized by larger lesions in the pelvic area. The endometrial tissue might be found deeper.
Damage to the pelvic organs will be limited with a stage 2 diagnosis. Adhesions and scar tissue are minimal.
Stage 3 endometriosis
With a stage 3 diagnosis, the endometrial tissue is found deeper. The tissue is beginning to infiltrate organs in the pelvic region.
Scar tissue and thick adhesions are present. Small cysts are present on one or both ovaries.
Stage 4 endometriosis
The fourth and final of the stages of endometriosis is considered severe. By stage 4 endometriosis, the tissue is affecting several organs in the pelvic region.
Thick bands of adhesions and scarring will be more pronounced. Large cysts will be present on one or both ovaries.
Stage 4 endometriosis symptoms
Stage 4 endometriosis symptoms vary from woman to woman. The symptoms of stage 4 endo aren’t necessarily more severe than the symptoms of a woman with stage 1.
The symptoms seem to vary from woman to woman rather than from stage to stage.
Stage 4 endometriosis surgery recovery
Endometriosis surgery is usually performed via laparoscope and has a short recovery time. After a laparoscopic procedure to remove the adhesions, you should be able to resume normal activity within a couple of days.
Stage 4 endometriosis life expectancy
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that can be debilitating. Although it can affect your quality of life, it isn’t considered to be a fatal disease.
Endometriosis is associated with a small number of potentially fatal conditions, such as small bowel obstruction and ectopic pregnancy.
Endo is also associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and infertility.
For these reasons, it’s important to seek medical help if you think you might be suffering from this condition.
Does endometriosis get worse over time?
Endometriosis doesn’t necessarily worsen over time. Some women with endometriosis find the condition remains the same even if it’s left untreated. However, this isn’t the case for all.
It isn’t yet understood why the severity of endometriosis varies between women. More research is needed to understand more about this condition.
Make sure you check out BellyBelly’s article about endometriosis treatment options by our Women’s Health and Reproductive Medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Orr.
If endo is affecting your daily life, the endometrial tissue needs to be removed. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about the benefits and risks of surgery and you’ll be able to ask any questions you might have.
Dr. Andrew Orr has recorded a video that explains more about endometriosis surgery.
You can watch it on his website.
Can endometriosis be cured?
Although there’s no known cure for endo, it’s possible to treat the condition.
For chronic endometriosis that’s affecting your daily life, you will need surgery. A qualified gynecologist, who is experienced in laparoscopic surgery, can perform the procedure to remove visible endometriosis lesions.
After the surgery, a multimodality team approach will help you get the best results. Acupuncture, Chinese medicine, lifestyle management, and a healthy diet (paleo or low carb are ideal) can all help to manage your ongoing symptoms.
Your treatment plan should be tailored to your specific needs and symptoms. It’s important to work with healthcare providers who understand your symptoms and who take a proactive approach to this condition.
If you’re struggling with the emotional toll of ongoing pain, counseling will be beneficial. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling.
There are support groups where endo sufferers can share their experiences and hear from others who are battling the same condition.
Will a hysterectomy cure endometriosis?
There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to women’s health. Unfortunately, even some doctors are misinformed as to the best treatment options for endometriosis.
A hysterectomy will stop you from having periods, so this will end your period pains. However, if the endometrial lining has spread outside of the uterus, hysterectomy isn’t a cure.
If your endo is affecting only your uterus, a hysterectomy could be a treatment option. If it’s reached other parts of the body, such as the fallopian tubes, a hysterectomy might not provide much relief.
BellyBelly has an informative article about hysterectomy and endometriosis that covers this topic in much more detail.