Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects roughly 10% of girls and women of reproductive age. In recent years, it has become widely discussed. However, more women must understand what it is and how to identify the symptoms. The odds are that you know someone with endometriosis, and you want to be supportive. To be a supportive advocate of women with endometriosis, you should know a few things.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, so you're doing your part by supporting women who are suffering from it.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic and progressive disease that affects the female reproductive system. It gets its name from the endometrium. The endometrium is the lining that builds during your menstrual cycle and flows during your period.
With endometriosis, cells similar to the endometrium begin to grow outside the uterus. These cells develop into a type of problematic external lining. This can sometimes spread to the fallopian tubes and other organs.
Throughout the month, this endometrium imposter grows like your uterine lining is meant to, but in the wrong place. The build-up can lead to painful and often life-altering symptoms.
Who Gets Endometriosis?
There is no one known cause of endometriosis. Several risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing endometriosis. Some of these risk factors are:
- Never giving birth, your risk significantly increases in your 30s and 40s if you haven't had children.
- Those whose periods last more than 7 days.
- Those who have shorter than average menstrual cycles. Especially if your cycle is 27 days or shorter.
- Those who have a family history of endometriosis.
- If you have a health concern that prevents the typical flow of menstrual blood during your period.
- Those who started their period at an early age.
- Those who start menopause at an older age.
These are only risk factors. You can develop endometriosis at any point in your reproductive years. Therefore, knowing the symptoms is critical for your health. You must know the signs and be your own health advocate.
What are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Endometriosis impacts each person a little differently. Also, since it is a progressive disease, your symptoms may begin as mild and worsen over time. Throughout the 4 stages of endometriosis, you may experience the following:
- Excessive menstrual cramping
- Long-term lower back and abdominal pain
- Pain during intercourse. Endometriosis is a common cause of dyspareunia
- Pain from urination or bowel movements
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Bloating and nausea, especially during your period
- Bleeding or spotting between your periods
- Infertility or difficulties becoming pregnant
You may have some of these symptoms, or you may have all of them. Perhaps your period cramps used to be tolerable, and now they're incapacitating. If you're worried you might have endometriosis, keep a detailed diary of your symptoms and cycle.
Doing this will help your healthcare providers effectively diagnose you and develop a treatment plan.
How is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
Diagnosing endometriosis can be a challenge. That's often due to there being a delay in the onset of symptoms. Or because some women experience "atypical" symptoms.
Early detection of endometriosis is critical. Endometriosis can impact your future fertility, well-being, and quality of life.
Here are some of the things you can expect if you're seeking a diagnosis of endometriosis:
Physical Exams & Medical History
Quality physicians would only be worth their salt if they took a thorough and careful history. Your doctor may ask to do a pelvic floor exam to feel for cysts or small nodules. However, these may not be noticeable if you're in the early stages of endometriosis.
Ultrasounds are practical tools for monitoring reproductive health. However, they're not ideal for a person with endometriosis. Unless your ultrasound technician has specific training, it may not be noticeable. If you're in the later stages of endometriosis small lesions, adhesions, or scarring may be detectable.
A laparoscopy is a surgery where a tiny incision is made in the abdomen. Then, a camera is inserted into your body. The endometriosis lesions can be seen by the surgeon, enabling a diagnosis. However, they will likely need a biopsy for a definitive diagnosis.
Doctors jump to keyhole surgery.
If you do have endometriosis, it can also be a treatment. Your surgeon can remove some built-up endometrial tissue, which may help with some of your symptoms.
The most likely way to get a definitive diagnosis will be keyhole surgery. It is minimally invasive and relatively low risk. Plus, you have the added benefit of getting some treatment while you're under!
How is Endometriosis Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for endometriosis short of a hysterectomy. Hysterectomies, or removing the uterus and often other reproductive organs, is a last resort.
Doctors will generally try safer and more conservative treatment options first.
The most common way to treat endometriosis is to manage your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend taking pain relievers like Advil or other ibuprofen-based drugs. These can help ease the pain of cramps and have anti-inflammatory properties.
They will also likely recommend various types of hormone therapy. Hormonal therapies include contraceptives such as birth control pills, patches, or rings. These can help regulate estrogen and progesterone levels, making endometriosis symptoms milder.
While other similar therapy types impact your hormonal levels, you should discuss those measures with your doctor.
What can I do if I think I have Endometriosis?
If you think you have endometriosis, the best thing you can do is keep a detailed log of your symptoms. Not all doctors or healthcare providers are familiar with endometriosis, so make sure you find a specialist or GP who is.
When you speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about your symptoms, try to be as thorough as possible. It may save you a lot of stressful and invasive diagnostic tests.
What Can I Do to Help Someone With Endometriosis?
The best course of action to support someone with endometriosis is to be their compassionate ear. If someone you love has endometriosis, they may be overwhelmed by their symptoms, missing social outings, and even work days. The symptoms may be debilitating, and they may feel negative about themselves.
Remind them that their pain and symptoms are legitimate. They're not being "dramatic" or anything of that nature.
You can also help point them to various endometriosis support groups. In these spaces, other women struggling with their symptoms will be able to respond empathetically. There's also the opportunity to learn new ways to manage symptoms.
If you don't know someone with endometriosis, you likely actually do. Many women are used to hiding their pain and discomfort for the sake of others. The best way you can support those struggling with this disease is to help spread awareness. Talk about it with your friends and family, and bring it up on social media. The more people are aware of this disease, the better the treatment options will become. And the more accepting people as a whole will become.
Get out there, Get in there, and Get off there!
Elaine S. Turner
Clinical Sexologist | Sex, Dating, & Relationship Coach | Pleasure Product Guru
Follow me on Instagram: @SexWithElaine