Every woman knows the telltale signs of “that time of the month”: pelvic pain, bloating and nausea. But when are those signs indicating something bigger than your monthly menstruation? If you’re experiencing abnormal menstruation symptoms, you may be dealing with endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a common condition that occurs in one out of 10 women, affecting specifically women who are of reproductive age. A woman with endometriosis experiences a growth of tissue outside the uterus that normally lines that inside. With each menstrual cycle, this tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds but has no way to exit the body. This trapped tissue then causes irritation, scar tissue and adhesions in the surrounding areas. Your endometriosis can range from mild to severe with no symptoms to more serious ones such as long term pelvic pain and heavy menstrual bleeding.
How can endometriosis impact me?
Beyond pelvic pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis can cause a range of problems. This includes the most common complications of ovarian cysts and, if severe enough, infertility. Mayo Clinic defines ovarian cysts as fluid-filled sacs or pockets in an ovary or on its surface. The majority of these cysts resolve on their own, but it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about monitoring them. Regular pelvic exams can help spot the infrequent complications of ovarian cysts like ovarian torsion (twisting of your ovaries) or a cyst rupture.
Women with endometriosis may find it more difficult to become pregnant. Reproductive Facts explains the ways that endometriosis can influence infertility: distorted anatomy of the pelvis, adhesions, scarred fallopian tubes, inflammation of the pelvic structures and changes in the hormonal environment of the eggs. Endometriosis does not automatically mean a woman is unable to get pregnant, but it’s important to discuss monitoring it and treatment options if applicable with your healthcare provider.
Recognizing your endometriosis symptoms
The primary endometriosis symptoms are often associated with menstrual periods: pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, bloating or nausea. If you feel your pain is far worse than normal or it increases over time, it may be time to speak with your Gyn healthcare provider. According to Mayo Clinic, other symptoms to watch for include:
- Painful intercourse. Pain during or after sex is common with endometriosis.
- Pain with bowel movements or urination. You’re most likely to experience these symptoms during a menstrual period.
- Infertility. Sometimes when a woman is seeking treatment for infertility, her endometriosis is diagnosed.
What is increasing my risk of endometriosis?
- Family history. Women are more likely to develop endometriosis if their mother, sister or daughter has the condition.
- Early menstruation. If your first menstrual cycle occurred before age 11.
- Short monthly cycles. If you have a monthly cycle that is shorter than 27 days.
- High estrogen levels. Or a greater lifetime exposure to estrogen.
Endometriosis is NOT the End
You can manage endometriosis and the condition’s symptoms. Because endometriosis affects women who are typically of reproductive age, the treatment can differ if you are trying to get pregnant and depending on the severity or type of your symptoms.
If you’re not trying to get pregnant, the Office of Women’s Health says hormonal birth control is typically the first step in treatment and works best for women who do not have severe pain or symptoms. These birth control methods include the pill, the shot or an intrauterine device (IUD). Talk to your healthcare provider about which option is right for you. If you are trying to get pregnant, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist may be the choice for you. Women’s Health explains, “This medicine stops the body from making the hormones responsible for ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. This treatment causes a temporary menopause, but it also helps control the growth of endometriosis.”
For symptoms that are more severe or not lessened by hormonal birth control, surgery may be the next step. At Southdale ObGyn, we offer minimally invasive surgery procedures to help treat endometriosis including Laparoscopy, the most common procedure used to treat endometriosis. Ask your healthcare provider about your options and the best treatment for you.