A stomachache that blossoms into blinding pain. A pair of giant hands crushing the area where your uterus would be. A series of sharp explosions in the abdomen. These are some of the ways women with endometriosis describe the pain. And most of them say, despite their frank descriptions of the agony they were experiencing — and their cries for medical professionals to help — they often found their doctors minimizing their symptoms, or dismissing them altogether.
For many women, it takes years to convince a doctor endometriosis-related pain is authentic and excruciating — not just digestive problems or normal cramping during menstruation. Why is this the case, and what exactly is endometriosis? Read on to find out.
Endometriosis is named for the endometrium, which is the tissue that lines your uterus — or at least, it’s supposed to. In a woman suffering from endometriosis, the endometrium extends beyond the uterus and grows elsewhere in the abdomen. It could start to move in on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes and, in some unusual cases, other organs near the pelvis. Why is this such a problem? Because you usually expel the endometrium when you menstruate. When it’s out of place, the blood can’t escape your body.
This backup of endometrium leads to all kinds of issues, including cysts on the ovaries and inflammation in nearby organs. Endometriosis can cause scar tissue and organs that essentially clump together, for lack of a better term, and the resulting symptoms are brutal.
The Unrelenting Symptoms
You’ve already heard about the most common symptom of endometriosis: excruciating pain before and during your period. This pain isn’t your average cramping. This has been described as another level of pain closer to agony. And it’s not even the worst potential side effect of endometriosis. Many women who suffer from this disease also experience fertility issues, and some can never conceive.
Obviously, this worst-case scenario isn’t true for every woman with endometriosis, but most will experience other, lesser symptoms. You may notice some spotting in between your periods or heavy bleeding during your period. It might hurt to have sex, to urinate or to have a bowel movement. You might even feel nausea or have diarrhea or constipation, especially during your period.
How It’s Diagnosed — Or Not
With such severe symptoms, doctors across the nation should be able to diagnose endometriosis in a snap…. right? Not exactly. Even seasoned medical professionals tend to write off the signs of endometriosis as “normal” aspects of your period. Many women go for years and years without a clear diagnosis unless they luck out with a health care provider who’s familiar with the disease. To diagnose endometriosis confidently, a doctor will use a pelvic exam, ultrasound or laparoscopy.
A Dearth of Decent Treatment Options
Once your doctor has finally reached a diagnosis, things don’t necessarily look up for women with endometriosis. Many of the treatment options are extreme or, on the other end of the spectrum, mere Band-Aids for a bullet wound. Some physicians will recommend over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or naproxen. Others will suggest hormone therapy, which comes with its own slew of side effects. Still others will say your best bet is surgery to remove excess tissue.
Although these treatments may work to a certain extent for different individuals, the fact remains there’s no cure for endometriosis. It’s difficult to cure a disease when we don’t know the cause. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope for women suffering from the often-silent ailment, however. When you find the right gynecologist, everything can change.
The Best Bet: Early Intervention
Regular trips to the gynecologist are obviously important for general health, but if you suspect you may have endometriosis, consulting with your gynecologist is critical. A gynecologist will know the signs and symptoms of endometriosis and have the ability to diagnose it sooner and with more certainty than a general practitioner. Perhaps more importantly, when you find a gynecologist you truly trust, you’ll be able to open up honestly about the symptoms you’re experiencing with your period.
The earlier you get a correct endometriosis diagnosis, the less you’ll have to suffer in silence through the condition. You’ll also be able to start working closely with your gynecologist to find a course of treatment that assuages your symptoms and helps you live a happy and normal life.
Just because many women are unaware endometriosis exists doesn’t mean the condition isn’t a huge problem. Lots of sufferers go undiagnosed just because they don’t realize they’re up against a life-changing disease. But with the proper guidance from a compassionate, knowledgeable gynecologist, every woman can receive the care she needs — including the proper treatment for endometriosis.