A common condition among women is a painful disorder known as endometriosis, which occurs when the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside of the uterus. In fact, endometriosis affects more than 5 million women in the United States, according to womenshealth.gov.
Although endometrial growths are non-cancerous, this disorder can have devastating effects on all aspects of a woman’s life. Fortunately, having knowledge about endometriosis can equip you with the tools you need to live a healthier, happier life.
Endometriosis commonly presents itself as pelvic pain that coincides with your menstrual period. Most women experience a certain degree of cramping and pain during their menstrual periods, but the pain endometriosis causes is much more severe. This pain also typically gets worse over time.
Other symptoms associated with endometriosis include:
- Painful intercourse
- Painful bowel movements or urination
- Heavy menstrual periods
Pain differs from person to person and is not necessarily an indication of the severity of the disorder. Be sure to see your health care provider if you are experiencing these symptoms or have concerns about endometriosis.
Some of the risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing endometriosis include:
- Never having children
- Family history of endometriosis (e.g. your mother or sister had it)
- Short menstrual cycles (27 days or less)
- Long-lasting menstrual periods (more than seven days)
- A health problem that inhibits the natural flow of menstrual blood
Age can also be a factor as endometriosis typically occurs during a woman’s 30s or 40s. However, it can affect any teen or woman who has a menstrual period. Endometriosis symptoms disappear during pregnancy and end permanently with menopause.
Although there is no sure-fire way to prevent endometriosis, there are effective treatments to help women manage their symptoms.
Here are some common ways that endometriosis is treated:
- Pain medications. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help to reduce some of the pain and symptoms of endometriosis. You may need to pursue a different approach if this treatment option doesn’t improve pain and symptoms.
- Hormone therapy. Contraceptives and other supplemental hormones may be effective in helping to manage changing menstrual cycle hormones, which are responsible for causing the thickening, breaking down and bleeding of endometrial growths.
- Conservative surgery. Surgery on endometrial growths may help to alleviate pain and, if you are trying to conceive a child, increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
- Hysterectomy and ovary removal. In certain instances when endometriosis is severe enough, a hysterectomy — surgical removal of the cervix and uterus — along with removal of both ovaries may be the best treatment method. This option is usually a last resort.
Endometriosis has caused challenges in the lives of many women. Some have experienced barriers in relationships due to physical and emotional pain while others have missed work and social events.
But it’s important to know that you can be in a better position to relieve your pain and enhance your well-being by becoming more knowledgeable of the warning signs and effective treatments associated with endometriosis.
Javier Cardenas, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System obstetrician and gynecologist. Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.