Endometriosis: Your Period Cramps Could Be Something Else

Woman experiencing abdominal pain

Endometriosis is a common health problem for women. Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium (the tissues that line the uterus) begins to grow outside of the uterus. Same as the tissue in the uterus, it will continue to thicken, break down, and bleed each month in conjunction with one’s menstrual cycle. Typically, endometriosis is found in areas near the uterus like the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and on the exterior of the uterus, but it is possible for the endometrium to travel to other locations in the body.

It’s unclear what causes endometriosis, but theories range from an auto-immune disorder to retrograde menstruation. In the US alone, approximately 7 million women suffer from endometriosis. Regardless of what may have caused your endometriosis, the way to be diagnosed is by your doctor performing a laparoscopy to collect a sample of the suspected endometriosis tissue and test it. Before you undergo this surgery, a doctor may recommend medication to control your symptoms. If the medication is effective, this is an indicator you do have endometriosis, but a laparoscopy will be necessary to confirm. March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month, so now is the time to learn more about endometriosis, and what you can do if you think you may be affected by it.

Risk Factors:

Any women of childbearing age (from your first period until you reach menopause) may develop endometriosis. However, women who have certain characteristics are at a higher risk. You are at a higher risk if:

  • You have a relative (sister, mother, aunt, etc.) who has endometriosis
  • You experience shorter (less than 27 days) menstrual cycles
  • Your period lasts longer than seven days
  • You have a low body mass index
  • You’ve never given birth
  • You started your period at an early age
  • You have another health problem that blocks the flow of menstrual blood during your normal cycle
  • You have other uterine abnormalities
  • You have higher levels of estrogen in your body
  • You started menopause at a later age

There is an average 10-year delay in the diagnosis of endometriosis, so if you’re worried about any of the risk factors for endometriosis, schedule an appointment to speak to your physician about it.  The presence of one of these factors does not necessarily mean you have endometriosis but staying informed and proactive about your health is necessary.

Symptoms:

If you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed below, you should consider speaking to your doctor about testing for endometriosis.

  • Painful periods: Cramping and pelvic pain that occurs during or near your period may be a sign of endomitosis. This could also include lower back or other abdominal pain. Pains associated with endometriosis are usually more painful than average menstrual pains and may grow worse over time.
  • Excessive bleeding: During your period, you may experience a heavier flow than average. You may also experience bleeding in-between your cycles.
  • Pain during sex:  Experiencing pain during or after sex is common for patients with endometriosis. Typically, like other symptoms, these pains will be worse during or close to your menstrual cycle.
  • Pain during bowel movements or urination: You may experience pain during bowel movements or urination. Endometriosis may also cause other bowel or bladder issues like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or blood in your urine.
  • Additional symptoms: Other symptoms like fatigue and nausea may accompany your monthly cycle.

Effects:

Aside from endometriosis symptoms, it has also been linked to larger health concerns.

  • Infertility: The biggest complication associated with endometriosis is infertility. For many reasons, including the way endometriosis may distort and obstruct the fallopian tubes, it often prevents women from becoming pregnant. Endometriosis also may directly damage both the sperm and egg. Approximately 1/3 to ½ of women with endometriosis have difficulty becoming pregnant. If you’d like to become pregnant and know you have endometriosis, speak to your doctor; it’s often recommended you don’t wait to conceive, as endometriosis effects may worsen over time.
  • Ovarian cancer: Although this is a relatively new area of research, studies show women with endometriosis have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Overall, ovarian cancer rates remain low, with approximatively 22,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the United States.

Prognosis:

While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are a variety of treatments available to help you manage your symptoms.

  • For pain associated with endometriosis, doctors typically recommend anti-inflammatory pain medication, like ibuprofen.
  • For other symptoms, hormonal birth control is recommended. Depending on what your doctor recommends, this may take the form of a pill, shot, or IUD. Before beginning any birth control regimen, you’ll need to speak to your doctor about what they believe is the best choice to control your endometriosis.
  • If you don’t want to take birth control and you want to get pregnant, your physician may prescribe a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist. This medication causes temporary menopause by stopping ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. After your symptoms have been controlled, you can stop taking the medication, and may have a better chance of becoming pregnant.
  • For cases where hormone treatment is no longer effective and symptoms are severe, surgery may be recommended. In this scenario, a surgeon would locate and remove patches of endometriosis from the affected areas.

If you have questions about your symptoms or want to learn more about endometriosis treatments, reach out to Capital Women’s Care. Our team of trained professionals can walk you through education, diagnosis, and treatment of endometriosis.

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