Many suffer with endometriosis symptoms for years before getting a diagnosis.
It makes sense that people who have rare diseases often struggle to find answers. After all, it’s not easy for doctors to diagnose a disease that they’re not familiar with. That’s what makes endometriosis so unusual. It’s a common condition, affecting about one in 10 women in the United States, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health. Despite this, many women suffer with endometriosis symptoms for years before they get an accurate diagnosis.
What makes “endo” tough to diagnose is that the symptoms can overlap with other issues. Heavy and painful periods can have many causes. Plus, the only true way to diagnose and confirm endometriosis is with surgery.
Finally, there may also be cultural issues at play. Throughout history, women who complain about “mysterious” pain have been dismissed as dramatic, possessed by demons, or “hysterical.” Today, doctors won’t accuse a woman in pain of dabbling in witchcraft, but they might still underestimate the pain women talk about. This can lead to delays in diagnosis. For these reasons, it's important to increase awareness about endometriosis. It may help more people recognize their symptoms and self-advocate at the doctor’s office, if needed.
What Is Endometriosis, Actually?
Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus starts to grow in other areas of the body. This tissue is called the endometrium, which is where endo gets its name. In someone with endometriosis, this tissue might grow in the following places:
- Around the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which can affect their function and increase the risk of infertility
- Behind the uterus
- Around the bowels, bladder, and other nearby organs, which can affect their function or cause digestive problems
Symptoms of endometriosis can be severe and include:
- Very painful periods: This may go beyond menstrual cramps and also cause pain in the back or legs. (Here are other causes of painful periods.)
- Heavy periods
- Spotting between periods
- Pain during sex: Learn more about how endometriosis can affect sex here.
- Pain during urination and bowel movements
- Digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
- Infertility in some cases
Symptoms of endo happen because of the unique way that the endometrium functions. This tissue is known for swelling, growing, and bleeding. Normally, this tissue in your uterus grows throughout the menstrual cycle. Then, the tissue bleeds and leaves the body as a period.
When endometrium is outside the uterus, it still swells and bleeds. The problem is that the blood can’t exit the body as easily as it can during a period. As a result, the person experiences pain, general swelling, and potential organ damage.
Treatment for Endo
There’s no cure for endometriosis (yet). However, the condition can be managed and symptoms can be treated. Treatment options include but are not limited to:
- Healthy habits
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Pain-soothing options like heating pads or hot water bottles
- Hormone therapy, including hormonal birth control
- Surgery in certain cases. Surgery can remove patches of endometrium, especially if it is growing in an area that is causing pain or damage to a particular organ
Although everyone’s periods are different, severe pain and frequent breakthrough bleeding are not “normal.” You should talk to your doctor if you have heavy and painful periods that really disrupt your life. If you do have endometriosis, your doctor can help you start a journey to finding some relief.