As March is designated as National Endometriosis month we wanted to give you some facts about this condition which affects up to 5.5 million women and girls in the U.S. alone. I am one of those women affected. I was unaware of my endometriosis until I tried to have a baby and saw a fertility specialist who would later diagnose me with this gynecological disorder. Many women like me, are totally unaware that they have endometriosis until the condition causes pain or problems with conception. Endometriosis develops when the lining of the uterus (endometrial tissue) begins to grow outside the uterus. This growth can cover the outside of the uterus, the inside of the pelvic region, the ovaries, fallopian tubes and can even extend to the bladder and bowel. Each time you have a period; endometriosis can build up and cause inflammation, internal bleeding, adhesions, and scarring. Women who have endometriosis may suffer for years with this condition without a diagnosis or treatment. In this post we want to promote awareness of this condition by tackling some of the myths about endometriosis and give you the real facts.
Myth # 1: Endometriosis is rare.
The Facts: Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological conditions among women. It is difficult to assess exactly how many women have endometriosis because many women lack any noticeable symptoms. One of the primary symptoms, however, can be pain especially during menstruation. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 40-60% of women who have very painful periods also have endometriosis.
Myth # 2: Teens and young women in their 20’s don’t develop endometriosis.
The Facts: Women may not be diagnosed with endometriosis until they want to have a baby and find that their infertility has been impaired. Yet many teens and young women who may be suffering from endometriosis go undiagnosed because their painful periods are dismissed as normal. In one global study with 1400 female participants aged 18-45, it was found that as many as two-thirds of women with endometriosis sought help from their doctor for their symptoms before the age of 30. One fifth of these women were below the age of 19.
Myth # 3: You have to have all the textbook symptoms of endometriosis to be diagnosed with this condition.
The Facts: Some of the symptoms of endometriosis include: Painful periods, pelvic pain, ovulation pain, painful sex, heavy or irregular bleeding, fatigue, and pain during bowel movements or urination especially during menstruation. Some women with endometriosis will have none of these symptoms, some will have one primary symptom, and others will experience more than one symptom. Every woman is unique in how their symptoms may or may not manifest. It is also true that the severity or stage of one’s endometriosis does not always translate into severity of symptoms experienced. In my case I did not have any of these listed symptoms but when it came time to conceive, endometriosis was found to be the cause of my infertility.
Myth # 4: Endometriosis is a mild condition with no long lasting effects.
The Facts: While some women experience little to no symptoms for years others will be affected by their endometriosis in most aspects of their life. The pain of endometriosis can affect one’s ability to work, perform daily chores, or have sexual relations. Some women endure years of pain and discomfort and end up having a total hysterectomy to end the pain. Endometriosis can also significantly impair one’s fertility. The Cleveland Clinic reports that between 30-40% of women with endometriosis also have fertility problems. Endometriosis is said to be one of the top three causes for female infertility.
Myth # 5: Your doctor can diagnose endometriosis from a verbal description of your symptoms.
The Facts: Your doctor or gynecologist will definitely take into account your history of symptoms when it comes to a diagnosis. But usually an ultrasound and a laparoscopy will provide a definitive diagnosis. I had a laparoscopy (exploratory surgery) to both diagnose and treat my endometriosis. This type of minimally invasive surgery is often called “belly button” surgery as a scope is inserted into your abdomen to look at your reproductive organs. In my case the surgeon also removed any endometriosis cells that she found. Some months later I was able to conceive. My experience may not be typical for all women with endometriosis, however.
The bottom line is that you know your body. If you feel like something is different from the way you normally feel such as consistent and chronic pain during sex or your period, heavy or irregular bleeding, or difficulties conceiving then it is time to ask for guidance from your doctor. Don’t dismiss any gynecological pain or discomfort as normal. Far too many women ignore gynecological symptoms until the condition is intense and treatment options are few. Don’t let this happen to you.
For more information on endometriosis symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment please refer to the following Health Central articles:
Nnoaham et al. Impact of endometriosis on quality of life and work productivity: a multicenter study across ten countries. Fertil Steril 2011;96(2):366-373
Published On: March 26, 2012