If you suffer from painful periods that keep you from your normal daily activities, it might be worth checking in with your Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN). Having cramps during your period is a normal process and is not considered worrisome. However, if you have severe pain that keeps you home from school or work, it might be the sign of endometriosis.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, so it’s a perfect time to think twice about those painful periods.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that affects women in their reproductive years. It is thought to be caused by menstruation occurring in a backwards fashion; some of the tissue that normally lines the uterus flows backwards through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvis (instead of all coming down through the cervix, as is what normally happens). This can cause inflammation, irritation and scarring on the outside of the uterus, the ovaries, the fallopian tubes and even the surrounding organs (bladder, intestines). The classic symptom for women is pelvic pain, often worse around the time of menstruation and with sexual activity. However, some women are often not aware of their diagnosis because they have always attributed the pain to their monthly period.
There are several reasons why it is important to recognize endometriosis. First, women with endometriosis do not have to suffer continuously; there are some medical and surgical treatments and lifestyle changes that can help to reduce the pain.
The second reason it is important to diagnosis endometriosis is that this condition can lead to difficulty getting pregnant. It is estimated that up to one-half of women with endometriosis will have some issues with conception. In fact, women with infertility are 6 to 8 times more likely to have endometriosis than fertile women. Endometriosis may decrease fertility by several means: it can distort the normal anatomy, interfere with normal egg/sperm transport, decrease egg quality, alter the immune system and affect the hormonal environment. Early recognition may help to improve your chances of getting pregnant in the future.
How do you know you have endometriosis?
Endometriosis is not always easy to diagnose and treat. In some cases, in can be seen on an ultrasound or an MRI scan. However, in other cases, an outpatient surgery called a laparoscopy may be suggested to confirm the diagnosis and to potentially treat the pelvic pain.
If your doctor is unsure about the diagnosis, they may refer you to a fertility specialist for further consultation. He/she may also consider referring you once the diagnosis is made, so that more advanced fertility treatment can be discussed if necessary. Treatment can then be individualized based on your symptoms, age, and desire for pregnancy. There are also multiple support groups and networks for women who suffer from endometriosis. If you think you may be affected by this condition, think twice before letting another painful month go by without taking action.
Original post March 1, 2017
Updated March 1, 2021
Updated March 2, 2023