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What Are The Symptoms Of Endometriosis?

a shot of a woman's torso, with her hands over her stomach and the word endometriosis
PHOTO: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most of you have probably heard of polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS—in fact, some of you may even have it—but there's another condition a lot of women suffer from that needs to be discussed more often: endometriosis. Hollywood celebrities like Halsey and Lena Dunham have publicly talked about what it's like to live with this condition, but there are still so many questions that need to be answered. 


Though a common condition among women, endometriosis is tricky to diagnose because a lot of its symptoms are too similar to other gynecological issues. It's easy to misdiagnose and some women experience severe pain for years while trying to figure out what's actually happening. Here's what you need to know about endometriosis. 

    Endometriosis symptoms: What exactly is endometriosis?

    Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that typically lines the inside of your uterus is growing outside of it instead. This can affect the tissue lining your pelvis, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

    The tissue growing outside the uterus is called an endometrial implant. The hormones associated with your menstruation causes that tissue to become inflammed. That tissue will grow and thicken and break down, but it will have nowhere to go. The trapped tissue can cause irritation, adhesions, scars, severe pain when you have your period, and even infertility problems. If your ovaries are affected by endometriosis, it's also possible for cysts to form. The scars and adhesions may cause some of your organs to stick together. 

    a woman sitting in bed with her hand over her stomach

    There are still much to be learned about endometriosis. For instance, no one really knows the causes of this condition, but the oldest theory is called retrograde menstruation. This happens when menstrual blood with endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes and into your pelvic cavity (as opposed to out the vagina). These cells stick to the pelvic walls and other organs where they thicken and bleed during your cycle. Another theory is called embryonic cell transformation, where hormones like estrogen turn embryonic cells into endometrial cells during puberty. Some think it could also be a problem with the immune system: It might not be able to detect and destroy endometrial tissue that's growing outside of the uterus. 

    Endometriosis symptoms: common symptoms

    Endometriosis is hard to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with other existing conditions like ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There are also those who mistake endometriosis for PCOS because both disorders affect a woman's menstruation. (It's important to note, however, that it's completely possible to have both PCOS and endometriosis.) 

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    One of the most telling symptoms of endometriosis is pelvic pain, and it's usually really bad around that time of the month. Many women experience menstrual cramps during their cycle, but the pain associated with endometriosis can be much harder to bear. The pain varies from woman to woman, and the severity of the pain isn't a basis of the stage you're at in your condition. Women who show mild symptoms of endometriosis can experience intense pain while those with a worse form of endometriosis can just be slightly uncomfortable. The pain is said to increase overtime, though. 

    Here are the other symptoms of endometriosis:

    • painful menstruation
    • cramping weeks before menstruation
    • pain in the lower abdomen before and during menstruation
    • heavy periods or bleeding between cycles
    • pain after sex
    • uncomfortable bowel movements
    • lower back pain during menstruation
    • infertility

    The thing is, you can have endometriosis and show no symptoms. We know, it's so confusing. So as much as possible, we suggest getting regular checkups. 


    Endometriosis symptoms: how to manage

    While endometriosis has no cure, the symptoms can be managed. Doctors tend to go for more conservative forms of treatment first like painkillers, but this isn't always effective. There's also hormonal contraceptives, with the most common one being birth control; birth control can help slow down endometrial tissue growth. This can also help reduce the pain of mild endometriosis. For more severe cases, doctors have also tried conservative surgery, where they remove endometrial growths without damaging the uterus or ovaries. As a last resort, some have opted to remove certain female reproductive organs like the uterus and cervix. Remember: Endometriosis is a complicated condition that must be tackled with a medical professional.



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