Dec 18, 2018
From pelvic pain to fertility problems, endometriosis can affect women’s quality of life and relationships. Discover which treatment options Dr. Vadim Morozov says can reduce symptoms, and what to expect during recovery.
Host: Thanks for joining us today. We’re speaking with Dr. Vadim Morozov, a gynecologic surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Today we’re discussing endometriosis, a gynecologic condition that affects more than 11 percent of women between 15 and 44 in the U.S. Welcome, Dr. Morozov.
Dr. Vadim Morozov: Thank you for having me.
Host: Could you start by telling us what is endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: Endometriosis is a disease where endometrium, which is normally growing on the wall of the uterus and inside the uterus, starts growing outside of the uterus on the surface of your intestines and the surface of your bladder, all around the pelvic organs in the areas. And, as a result of that problematic growth, you start having pain and symptoms associated with it.
Host: What are the most common symptoms of endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: Most common ones would be very difficult menstrual periods, cramping, severe pain with that. Pain with sexual intercourse. Pain when you go to the bathroom, having the bowel movements or when you’re urinating. Those are the top four that comes to mind when we’re talking about endometriosis. Pain perception is individualized, obviously, right? So, as you know, one person hits the finger and barely notices, and the other person hits the finger with the same strength and like, you know, ‘I’m dying, that’s it, call the ambulance.’ So, having said that, it obviously depends on the patient, her perception of the pain, support structure that she has, and her goals in life.
Host: How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Dr. Morozov: Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose endometriosis nowadays is by laparoscopy. We can make a presumptive diagnosis that the patient might have an endometriosis just by symptoms of what she’s describing and the physical examination. But to be 100 percent sure, usually we have to look and see the lesions of endometriosis and even better to biopsy those lesions and send them to pathology to tell us that, ‘yes, it is exactly endometriosis.’
Host: Are there any genetic or environmental components associated with the risk factors for endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: There are some. We know, for example, that if you have a mother or a sister or an aunt with endometriosis, you as a patient are at higher risk of developing endometriosis. There are some studies also saying that the environmental factors such as organic pollutants that we have in the atmosphere also affect the development of endometriosis. Um, but there are no conclusive results yet that can pinpoint us with 100 percent accuracy.
Host: Can endometriosis go away on its own?
Dr. Morozov: That’s a very interesting question. The short answer is probably no. Um, you might be asymptomatic, meaning you don’t as a patient don’t have much of the symptoms related to endometriosis. But if you have them, highly unlikely that the disease will resolve and go away on its own.
Host: What are the treatments for endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: Normally if we diagnose somebody with endometriosis, it’s not unreasonable to start some sort of a medical treatment, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, birth control pills. There are some other medications that are a little ‘heavy drugs’ as we call them - anything that controls hormonal fluctuations in your body - usually is the first line of treatment. In my experience, most patients don’t do too well on those, um, medications. And inevitably ends up with a surgery. Um, so the gold standard would be something like minimally invasive surgery by laparoscopy, with small, tiny, less than an inch incisions that made in the belly, and then the endometriosis diagnosed and removed at the same time.
Host: Are there any risks for a woman’s health long term if she doesn’t get her endometriosis treated?
Dr. Morozov: There are. Endometriosis, to a certain extent, is almost like cancer. Obviously, it doesn’t kill you but it tends to spread in the abdomen and in the pelvis in a similar way. It can actually involve and invade your bowels, it can invade your bladder, it can invade other structures and organs that are in the pelvis. So, technically, if you leave severe endometriosis untreated, you are at risk of developing complications related to it.
Host: Can endometriosis affect fertility?
Dr. Morozov: Yes. Technically we’re saying that endometriosis does not cause infertility, but rather it causes what we call a subfertility, meaning if you’re a woman with endometriosis, for you it is going to be much harder to get pregnant than for a woman who doesn’t have it. The reason being is because endometriosis creates the inflammatory environment in the abdomen and pelvis. Your pelvic organ is constantly in the state on inflammation that lowers the chances of becoming pregnant.
Host: Does all of that inflammation and all of that scar tissue and so forth that happens with endometriosis increase cancer risk or anything like that for women?
Dr. Morozov: There’s been some association between endometriosis and endometrioid type ovarian cancer. There is no direct correlation, but some researchers are looking that they, some particular endometriomas, which is a chocolate-filled cyst of the ovary, can lead potentially to endometrioid-type cancer.
Host: Have you seen any exciting research that has you excited for women’s health in the future?
Dr. Morozov: There are a couple of good areas of research in endometriosis. One of them is to develop markers of endometriosis that allows us diagnosis without doing the surgery. So, the markers are done from drawing the blood from the patient or even the saliva test that goes to the laboratory and tells you as a patient and me as a physician that there’s a good chance that you might have a disease. It’s in the research phase right now but the results, at least preliminary results, are looking very promising. The other field of interesting research is to develop better laparoscopic visualization tools. Very often we go into laparoscopy with a small camera is placed in the abdomen and pelvis and we don’t see anything or maybe we miss a lesion because our eyes are not trained to recognize highly specific lesions in the pelvis. So, some companies are working on the, what’s called filters, that allow a better visualization of endometriotic implants during laparoscopic surgery.
Host: Are there any questions that a woman should ask when she goes to her doctor? What does she need to know to take care of herself going forward after she’s received treatment?
Dr. Morozov: Well, one thing is, what’s the long-term prognosis? What kind of endometriosis I have. Is it the mild disease that’s easily treated or versus a severe disease that involves surrounding organs such as rectum, bowel or bladder or anything else? The next question the woman should ask, depending on her fertility age, will it affect my fertility? Can I get pregnant? Can I get pregnant on my own or do I need to go to see an infertility specialist for this? The next question would be, in 10 or 15 years when I’m done with my childbearing, what are the options for me as far as having a definitive surgical management of this condition? So those are something that every woman diagnosed with endometriosis should keep in mind.
Host: What is recovery like for women after undergoing surgery for endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: Usually it takes about 6 months to feel better. So, within the couple first months, you’re sore with the surgery itself. After that time the surgical pain starts going away and you’re feeling great. But it still lingers for some time. So, within the 6 months period we expect to see a result of the pain improvement and the symptoms related to endometriosis improvement. How long does it last as recovery depends. I’ve seen patients that are very good and for years don’t have any symptoms and then sort of slowly starts coming back. And I’ve seen the patients who recur within 3 to 6 months after surgery. Unfortunately, it’s unpredictable.
Host: Can a woman expect to become pain-free eventually, after she has treatment for endometriosis?
Dr. Morozov: Very tricky question. The answer is, depends on the conditions and the extent of the disease. Very often, by the time we see those women, the disease is severe enough that it’s near impossible to make them completely pain-free. And I try to have a very honest discussion with my patients in anticipation of whatever treatment options we choose, saying the goal of, whether we do surgery or anything else, the goal is not to make you 100 percent pain-free. The goal of everything we do is to bring it to the point where you can function normally every day. You’re probably going to have pain here and there, but that pain shouldn’t be debilitating. You shouldn’t be missing school or work because of the pain. In my experience, it’s near impossible to make a woman diagnosed with endometriosis 100 percent pain-free.
Host: Why should a woman come to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for endometriosis care?
Dr. Morozov: Well, we are the largest and probably the best equipped group on the east coast, mid-Atlantic. We have multiple fellowship trained specialists that deal with nothing else but endometriosis and pelvic pain. Our group at the National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery have multiple urogynecologists and the specifically trained female urologists that deal with the conditions of the pelvic pain and of the reproductive disorders.
Host: Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Morozov.
Dr. Morozov: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.