It’s Friday afternoon. You’ve been looking forward to a night out with friends all week long. Unfortunately, you’ve soaked three tampons in as many hours, and your cramps have made it impossible to concentrate. You’re doubled over in pain in your cubicle thinking:
Could the clock… move… any… slower?!
You wonder how you’ll make it to the end of the day.
You may know that March is Women’s History Month, but you probably don’t know this month is also National Endometriosis Awareness Month. According to WebMD, endometriosis affects about 200 million women worldwide.
Are you one of them? How do you know if YOU have endometriosis?
Let’s take a look at 7 of the most common symptoms.
Armed with a little knowledge, you can decide if it’s time to see a doctor and, just possibly, get a diagnosis to explain that severe pain, excessive bleeding and more.
It’s time to stop suffering in silence.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a medical condition in which tissue lining the uterus, called the endometrium, grows outside of the uterus.
This tissue is typically found in or on the:
- Fallopian tubes
How Do I Know I Have Endometriosis? 7 Symptoms To Look Out For
Your mind darts back to your evening plans. Even if you could muster the strength to meet your best girlfriends for a night of tapas and sangria, how will you be able to get through the evening feeling this way?
Should you tell them how you’re feeling? Friends talk about being exhausted. They talk about period cramps from time to time. They even talk about struggles with infertility. But excessive bleeding and pain while using the bathroom aren’t usually things that come up over cocktails.
Maybe they should.
Endometriosis is a common gynecologic problem in women, but it can be difficult to diagnose.
Oftentimes women downplay the symptoms. After all, cramps are supposed to hurt, right? Additionally, symptoms can be similar to those of other disorders. Studies show an average of more than 8 years from the onset of symptoms and the time of diagnosis.
How many of these symptoms do you have?
- Painful periods
- Pain when using the bathroom
- Pain during sex
- Excessive bleeding
- Pain in the lower abdomen, back, pelvis, rectum or vagina
- Chronic fatigue
Symptom #1: Painful Periods
Cramps during ‘that time of the month’ are no joke. But what about when the pain is debilitating? When over-the-counter medications and heating pads provide little to no relief?
For women with endometriosis, the pain is unbearable and can begin before a period starts and last for several days after. This pain sometimes increases over time.
Symptom #2: Pain When Using The Bathroom
Pain during bowel movements or urination is a common symptom of endometriosis.
Other bowel and bladder symptoms may include:
- Blood in the urine
Symptom #3: Pain During Sex
Experiencing pain during or after sex?
Endometriosis may be to blame.
The pain may feel sharp and can vary by sexual position as well as where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Symptom #4: Infertility
Thankfully, talking about struggles with infertility is becoming less and less ‘taboo.’ And for good reason.
Infertility is considered common by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 10% of women in the U.S. ages 15-44 have difficulty becoming or staying pregnant.
Oftentimes, it isn’t until a woman experiences infertility struggles that endometriosis is diagnosed.
Because anywhere from one-third and one-half of women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Cysts sometimes form when endometrial tissues grow on your ovaries. This can cause pain or scarring, impacting the ability to get pregnant.
Symptom #5: Excessive Bleeding
Women with endometriosis may experience extremely heavy bleeding during menstruation as well as bleeding between periods.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, any of the following is considered to be heavy menstrual bleeding:
- Bleeding that lasts more than seven days.
- Bleeding that soaks through one or more tampons or pads every hour for several hours in a row.
- Needing to wear more than one pad at a time to control menstrual flow.
- Needing to change pads or tampons during the night.
- Menstrual flow with blood clots that are as big as a quarter or larger.
Symptom #6: Pain In Lower Abdomen, Back, Pelvis, Rectum Or Vagina
Noticing a trend here?
Another symptom involving PAIN.
WebMD says, “the inflammatory changes that come with endometriosis can put pressure on nerves in your pelvis and hips.”
This can mean weakness, numbness, or sharp pain in your lower body including your:
- Lower abs
This pain can be worse when you walk.
Symptom #7: Chronic Fatigue
Constantly feeling tired? Feeling even more exhausted during your period? According to WebMD, researchers have found an endometriosis-fatigue connection.
How Do Doctors Know If You Have Endometriosis?
If these symptoms sound all too familiar, it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor.
In addition to asking you to explain your symptoms, physicians may use one or more of these methods to diagnose endometriosis:
- Pelvic exam
A pelvic exam will likely be the first step. Your doctor will feel areas in your pelvis (uterus and ovaries) for abnormalities, such as cysts.
An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images. This test will be performed to get a better look at your uterus and ovaries.
This test can’t definitively say whether or not you have endometriosis, but it will identify any cysts that can be associated with the disorder.
An MRI scan is a non-invasive test using a large magnet, and radio waves to provide detailed images of internal organs and structures.
This diagnostic test can help provide doctors with information, such as the location and size of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus.
In some cases, you may be referred to a surgeon for a laparoscopy.
During this procedure, your doctor makes a small incision in your abdomen. A tube attached to a small camera will then be inserted into your abdomen. This allows your doctor to look for signs of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus.
Ways To Deal With Endometriosis
After being diagnosed with endometriosis, you may feel upset or disappointed. Alternately, you may feel relieved — finally, a scientific reason behind all of that pain and inconvenience (it wasn’t all in your head)!
The good news?
Managing symptoms of endometriosis IS POSSIBLE. Avenues for relief include everything from simple medication to surgery. Additionally, alternative therapies have been proven to help.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, it’s time to decide what’s next.
Your doctor will most likely recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Pain Medication
- Hormone Therapy
If symptoms are mild, doctors may suggest over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If OTC pain meds don’t provide relief, your doctor may consider a prescription for something stronger.
Supplemental hormones can be effective in reducing, and even eliminating pain caused by endometriosis.
Doctors have found hormone medication may slow endometrial tissue growth and prevent new implants of endometrial tissue.
If pain is severe and medication or hormone therapy doesn’t help, doctors may recommend surgery to remove affected tissue.
Natural treatments can also help reduce symptoms of endometriosis. Sometimes implementing simple lifestyle changes to your diet and daily activity make a noticeable impact.
It’s no mystery - how we fuel our bodies impacts how we feel. This becomes even more apparent in endo-ridden bodies.
Food can play a huge role in helping to reduce inflammation.
For women struggling with endometriosis, this meal plan focused on gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and anti-inflammatory foods is a great tool!
If an entire diet overhaul is too overwhelming, start small by beginning your day with an endometriosis-friendly breakfast.
When you’re in pain or experiencing heavy bleeding, exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind. But if you can muster the strength, it’s important to stay active.
Low impact exercises such as stretching, walking, and yoga can stretch tissues and muscles in the pelvis, easing your pain and stress.
So tonight, it’s okay to cancel your plans and relax.
But tomorrow, make the call to your doctor. A diagnosis means a road to relief.
And next time you’re out with your friends, share your experience. Endometriosis is something we should be talking about.