Endometriosis is a chronic condition affecting nearly one in ten women during their reproductive years. “The condition develops when normal tissue found in the uterus grows outside of the uterus on the surrounding pelvic organs, such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries,” said Fooroogh Ostovari, MD, an OBGYN with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “It often develops over time and, if left untreated, can put women at higher risk of infertility or ovarian cancer.”
Here are the common signs of endometriosis to look out for:
Painful Menstrual Cycles
Pelvic pain is a primary symptom of endometriosis. “Women with endometriosis generally deal with pain and irritation from the tissue growths in their pelvic area that is usually at its worst during menstruation,” says Dr. Ostovari. “Many women experience severe menstrual cramps and pain in other areas of their body, such as their lower back and abdomen.”
Infertility affects nearly 40 percent of women who have endometriosis. “The inflammation and scarring from endometriosis can make it difficult for eggs and sperm to move through the fallopian tubes,” says Dr. Ostovari. “Studies also show that endometriosis can also decrease the number and quality of eggs your body produces.” Treating endometriosis early can decrease your risk of experiencing fertility issues.
Pain during Intercourse
Pain during or after intercourse is common among women who have endometriosis. Some women will describe this pain as a burning, stabbing or cramp-like sensation. Though many women may feel uncomfortable discussing this topic during a gynecologist visit, Dr. Ostovari says pain during intercourse is an important symptom to note. “Sharing where you specifically notice pain during intercourse can help your doctor find the location of the endometriosis lesions,” she says.
Excessive Menstrual Bleeding
Women will often notice spotting between periods or experience very heavy bleeding during their cycles. “Bleeding that lasts more than seven days, soaks through pads or tampons within an hour and makes you pass large blood clots is not normal and should be evaluated by a physician,” says Dr. Ostovari.
Digestive Issues and Fatigue
Sometimes endometriosis can have gastrointestinal effects that can mimic the symptoms of bowel disorders. Women can experience issues with urination, bowel movements, nausea and even fatigue.
Endometriosis can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions. It is also possible to have endometriosis with no pain or symptoms. However, if the condition is diagnosed early, Dr. Ostovari says early treatment can help make endometriosis more manageable. “If you are experiencing pelvic pain or any of the above symptoms, talk to your primary care or gynecologist for further evaluation.”
Sources: National Institutes of Health, American College of Gynecology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Endometriosis Foundation of America