Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects nearly 10% of women during their reproductive years. The disease occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium, which normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside of the uterus on organs in the pelvic area or abdomen.
This can lead to a variety of symptoms that significantly impact a woman’s quality of life. Here, the expert OBGYN team at AllSafe Medical Group discusses the top five most common symptoms of endometriosis so you can identify if you may be dealing with this condition. These are:
- Pelvic pain
- Painful periods
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pain during or after sex
- Urinary or gastrointestinal problems during menses
Improving your endometriosis awareness and learning to recognize these symptoms is crucial for obtaining an accurate endometriosis diagnosis and effective treatment. Read on to learn about spotting the key signs of endometriosis and when to see a doctor.
What Is Endometriosis, and How Does It Occur?
Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus begins growing outside of the uterus, typically in the pelvis, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other areas of the body.
This abnormal tissue growth is influenced by estrogen and responds to the menstrual cycle in the same way that the endometrium does, building up and then breaking down each month.
However, unlike the endometrium, which is shed from the body during menstruation, this tissue has no way to exit the body. It becomes trapped and can cause inflammation, pain, and the formation of scar tissue. Fertility and endometriosis can also be a concern, which is why it’s important to seek treatment should you experience any of the symptoms discussed below.
The causes of endometriosis aren’t fully understood. Contributing factors may include:
- Retrograde menstruation where menstrual blood flows back into the pelvis rather than out of the body
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Transformation of peritoneal cells into endometrial cells
- Immune system disorders
- Genetics may also play a role, as the condition runs in families
How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
Because symptoms can vary so widely, endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose. A detailed medical history and pelvic exam may raise suspicion of endometriosis.
Additional testing, such as an ultrasound or MRI, can sometimes identify significant endometrial tissue growth,. However, endometriosis most often is not recognized on typical imaging tests. Laparoscopic surgery is considered the gold standard for definitively diagnosing endometriosis. During this minor surgical procedure, a camera is inserted so the surgeon can view the abdomen and pelvic regions, take samples of tissue, and look for evidence of endometriosis.
If endometriosis is suspected, it’s important to see a doctor, preferably a specialist like an obstetrician-gynecologist, who can help diagnose and treat the condition. Early intervention can improve outcomes and prevent symptoms from worsening over time.
What Are the Top Five Signs of Endometriosis?
The five top signs of endometriosis are as follows:
One of the main symptoms of endometriosis is chronic pelvic pain, which may occur before, during, or after menstruation.
This pain stems from the growth and inflammation of endometrial tissue outside the uterus. Pain typically centers in the lower abdomen but can also radiate to the lower back and thighs. It may be dull and achy or sharp and intense. Moving the bowels during a menstrual period often intensifies the pain.
Painful Menstruation (Dysmenorrhea)
Many women with endometriosis experience much stronger menstrual cramps than usual, a condition known as dysmenorrhea. Pain and cramping may begin in the days leading up to bleeding and continue for several days of the menstrual period. The pain can even be debilitating. Nausea, headaches, constipation, or diarrhea during menstruation can also occur.
The pain is often more severe than “typical” period cramps and does not respond well to over-the-counter pain medications. Dysmenorrhea related to endometriosis often worsens over time.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (Menorrhagia)
It’s common for women with endometriosis to have heavy menstrual bleeding, or periods that last longer than seven days. This excessive blood loss, known as menorrhagia, can cause anemia and endometriosis symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
The abnormally located endometrial tissue builds up thicker than normal each month but has no way to exit the body, often leading to heavy bleeding during menstruation as the tissue breaks down.
Gastrointestinal or Urinary Symptoms
When endometrial growths develop on organs of the digestive or urinary tracts, women may experience gastrointestinal symptoms or urinary problems around the time of their periods. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, painful bowel movements, painful urination, or blood in the urine or stool.
Pain During or After Intercourse (Dyspareunia)
Up to 50% of women with endometriosis experience pain during or after sex, known as dyspareunia. This occurs when endometrial lesions develop on reproductive organs or pelvic structures involved in intercourse. In addition to pain, women may spot blood after sex due to irritation of the tissue.
Dyspareunia can place significant strain on relationships. It’s important to communicate with your partner and healthcare provider to navigate this symptom.
What Are Some Treatment Options for Endometriosis?
Treatments aim first to manage pain and then slow the progression of endometriosis. Options may include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription NSAID pain relievers
- Hormonal contraceptives to prevent ovulation and menstruation
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or antagonists to reduce estrogen production
- Progestin therapy, such as an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Excision surgery to remove endometrial lesions
- In severe cases, hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries
Finding an effective endometriosis treatment plan requires working closely with your healthcare provider. You may need to try different options before discovering the best approach for your individual case. Be open about all symptoms you experience so that your doctor can fully support you on the path to relief.
Treat Endometriosis in Southern California
Dealing with endometriosis can be isolating, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Armed with the knowledge of key endometriosis symptoms, you can seek the necessary care to improve your health and reclaim your life.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to a women’s health specialist who can help provide answers and a customized treatment plan. There are many resources available today to successfully manage endometriosis and minimize its impact. To learn about endometriosis management and care, contact the specialists at AllSafe Medical Group today via our online form, or by calling us at (323) 454-2388. We’re here to listen to your concerns, accurately diagnose your condition, and craft a tailored treatment plan for long-term relief. You deserve to feel your best.