Approximately 10-15% of all women of reproductive age are diagnosed with endometriosis, which accounts for 70% of chronic pelvic pain in women. However, many women with endometriosis go undiagnosed. Painful periods can be no cause for concern, but it’s hard to tell when period pain is normal and when it’s time to see your doctor.
We’re covering everything you need to know about signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for endometriosis. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you don’t have to suffer through endometriosis. There are options to help you regain a higher quality of life, even during your period.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a female reproductive disorder that causes normal tissue of the uterine lining to grow elsewhere in the body. Most often, this tissue grows in the abdomen. Rarely, endometrial cells can spread beyond pelvic organs.
This extra tissue acts just like normal uterine lining tissue, meaning that it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. However, because the abnormal tissue is growing outside of the uterus, it has nowhere to go and becomes trapped, causing scar tissue and adhesions to form around the affected area. In severe cases, this scar tissue can cause pelvic tissue and organs to stick to each other.
Endometriosis can cause pelvic pain, especially during menstruation and intercourse, but many women have no symptoms at all. It has been linked to infertility, making early detection and treatment important.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. It’s possible that endometrial cells escape into the bloodstream during retrograde menstruation (when a woman’s menstrual flow moves in the wrong direction) as blood flows out of the fallopian tubes into the abdominal cavity. It’s also possible that endometrial cells could be transferred from the uterus to other parts of the body during abdominal surgery. Immune system disorders are another possible cause of endometriosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Endometriosis
There are five tell-tale signs of endometriosis, including:
- Painful periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain with bowel movements or urination
- Excessive bleeding
How can you tell the difference between regular menstrual cramps and endometriosis pain? Typically, pain associated with endometriosis is far more severe, and may begin before your period and last for several days. You may also experience pain in your lower back and abdomen.
When to See a Doctor for Period Pain
If your menstrual pain is severe and accompanied by any of the other signs of endometriosis, contact your doctor. In order for your doctor to diagnose endometriosis, you will need to describe your symptoms, the location of any pain, and when the pain occurs. It could be helpful to track your symptoms in a notebook or app for reference. Your doctor can perform a pelvic exam or laparoscopy to confirm any physical evidence of endometriosis.
If you are diagnosed with endometriosis, treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are and whether or not you hope to become pregnant. Options include:
- Over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate symptoms
- Supplemental hormone therapy to slow tissue growth, prevent new endometrial tissue, and reduce pain
- Laparoscopic abdominal surgery to remove endometrial tissue
At Walnut Hill OBGYN, we understand the anxiety that can come with a diagnosis of endometriosis. We will work with you one on one to make sure you understand all available options and your best course of endometriosis treatment while protecting your reproductive future health.
If you think you may be dealing with signs and symptoms of endometriosis, it’s important that you contact us as soon as possible to set up an appointment.