When an endometriosis patient takes the step of having laparoscopic excision surgery to treat their endometriosis, they have often already been through a long journey with many failed treatments. This journey often includes treatments such as multiple rounds of different types of birth control pills, stronger hormonal medications designed to suppress menstrual cycles (such as Lupron or other GnRH agonsists), multiple cauterization or ablation laparoscopic surgeries, and various different complementary alternative medicine approaches.
Most patients who undertake excision surgery after trying many or most of the above, do so on the basis of their own research, since many gynecologists are misinformed about endometriosis treatment, and are not trained to do excision surgery. A recent worldwide consensus paper on the management of endometriosis states that “there is unanimous consensus over the recommendation to excise lesions where possible, especially deep endometriotic lesions, which is felt by most surgeons to give a more thorough removal of disease.” Sadly, there are fewer than 100 surgeons in North America currently practicing expert excision of endometriosis.
Patients come to excision surgery with hope that this treatment will finally bring them relief. And when pain persists or recurs after excision surgery, patients may feel disappointed, hopeless, and confused. However, there are many causes of pelvic pain that are not endometriosis, which can continue to cause pain even after expert excision surgery, and once these other causes are treated, excellent pain relief and relief of other symptoms may be achieved. Although it may be natural after previous surgeries have failed, to assume that endometriosis is still the cause of the pain, if surgery was performed by an expert, it is prudent to rule out other potential causes of pain before assuming that endometriosis continues to be the culprit.
Adhesions After Surgery
Adhesions are a very common occurrence after laparoscopic excision surgery. Adhesions occur in 70 to 90 percent of patients undergoing gynecological surgery. In some cases, adhesions may be present but not cause pain, but adhesions can also cause chronic abdominal or pelvic pain, small bowel obstruction (where the intestines are kinked or twisted, and are partially or completely blocked), female infertility, and more. Adhesions are the primary cause of bowel obstructions and are a common cause of hospital admission for people with a history of abdominal or pelvic surgeries.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Pelvic floor dysfunction is also a common consequence both of endometriosis itself, and of the surgeries used to treat it. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and other tissues that form a sling from the front to the back of the pelvis. When the muscles are too tight, too relaxed, or a combination of both, it can result in problems with urination or bowel movements, pain with sex, pelvic pain, genital pain, back pain, and/or rectal pain.
Adenomyosis is a disease of the uterus, where the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is found within the muscle wall of the uterus. There is no clear association between adenomyosis and endometriosis, but it is possible to have both conditions. Adenomyosis may be underdiagnosed because it is difficult to see using imaging techniques such as ultrasound, and the symptoms overlap with many of other conditions causing pelvic pain.
Interstitial cystitis is a disease of the bladder that can cause pelvic pain, bladder pain, urethral and/or vaginal pain, painful sex, urinary frequency and urgency. Some doctors have found a very high association between endometriosis and interstitial cystitis, where many patients have both conditions. This has led to the two diseases being nicknamed “the evil twins.”
Vulvodynia and Pudendal Neuralgia
Endometriosis patients may also be more susceptible to pain syndromes involving nerves in the pelvic area, such as vulvodynia, a condition associated with pain in the opening of the vagina, and pudendal neuralgia, a condition involving pain, burning, and/or numbness in the genital area and rectum. The potential cause and effect relationship between endometriosis and these other conditions is not clear; however, some doctors theorize that chronic inflammation, immune system dysfunction, and neural pathway sensitization may play a role in the development of multiple pelvic pain syndromes.
Not All Pelvic Pain is Endometriosis
Unfortunately, although endometriosis is a painful and often debilitating condition all on its own, in many patients other conditions also contribute to pain and other symptoms. For doctors and patients alike, it can be tempting, once a diagnosis of endometriosis is made, to blame every symptom arising in the pelvic area on endometriosis. However, pain after careful excision surgery can often be caused by one or more of these other pelvic pain conditions, and a correct diagnosis of the underlying cause of the pain is crucial to successful treatment.