Pelvic pain. Bleeding between periods. Stomach issues. Problems getting pregnant.
One by one, these symptoms can point to a host of different health problems. But considered together, these symptoms may point to a condition called endometriosis.
Endometriosis is common, affecting as many as 11% or more of American women of childbearing age (considered between 15 to 44), and is especially prevalent among women in their 30s and 40s. It occurs when the kind of cells typically found lining the inside of the uterus develop outside the uterus, including on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer surface of the uterus, or even surrounding organs like the bowels.
Symptoms of endometriosis
The symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pain — the most common symptom — can include extremely acute menstrual cramps, long-lasting pain in the pelvis and lower back, pain during or after intercourse, and pain with bowel movements or during urination.
- Inability to get pregnant
- Digestive problems, including bloating, constipation, diarrhea or nausea — especially during menstrual periods
- Bleeding between menstrual periods, or “spotting”
A physician may suspect endometriosis based on a combination of findings, including pain symptoms, an abdominal physical exam or family history.
Other tests, like an ultrasound or MRI, might be used to look for causes of pelvic pain, like endometriosis, or issues like a cyst, called an endometrioma, that grows inside the ovaries.
Laparoscopy, however, is the only way to formally diagnose endometriosis. This minor procedure involves the use of a tiny camera inserted through a small incision to look for endometrial tissue.
Who’s at risk for endometriosis?
While any woman who has menstrual periods can develop endometriosis, the condition tends to be more common among women who have a close family member with endometriosis, who have never had kids, who have menstrual periods that last longer than seven days, and who have shorter than usual menstrual cycles (27 days or fewer between periods).
There are several approaches to treating endometriosis that you might consider. One is hormonal birth control, including a daily pill or intrauterine devices (IUDs) that can help with the symptoms. Your gynecologist may also suggest scheduled use of over-the-counter pain medications.
If these therapies do not provide significant relief or if the condition is potentially causing problems while trying to get pregnant, your gynecologist may recommend a surgical approach.
The good news is, surgery at Tanner can be performed on a minimally invasive basis, with tiny incisions, the ability to return home the same day and a faster, more comfortable recovery.
Getting treatment for endometriosis
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms — especially bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods — you should contact your gynecology provider. If you don’t have a gynecologist, you can call Tanner’s 24-hour physician referral line at 770-214-CARE or use Tanner’s Find a Provider function on its website.
Endometriosis is very common, but treatment is very effective. Don’t suffer in silence — seek help now!