March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. It is during this month where we raise awareness to an illness which affects millions of women worldwide.
1 in 10 women in the US are living with endometriosis and sadly, they are often suffering in silence. It is a disorder that is commonly misdiagnosed as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or simply ‘period pains.’ It can take an average of 10 years between symptom onset & proper diagnosis.
Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside instead. Endometriosis growths bleed in the same way the lining inside of your uterus does every month. This can cause swelling and pain because the tissue grows and bleeds in an area where it cannot easily get out of your body. The growths may also continue to expand and cause problems, such as: cysts, inflammation, problems in the intestines and bladder, or formation of scar tissue & adhesions which may not only cause pain, it may also make it difficult to become pregnant.
The pain that women with endometriosis suffer, which can often be severe and feel sharp or stabbing, occurs in the pelvis or belly and usually won’t go away with medication. Some women with mild cases have intense pain, while others with advanced cases may have little pain or even no pain at all. Other symptoms include excessive bleeding during and/or between periods, backache, leg pain, painful sex, painful bowel movements, and infertility.
While there is no known cause, there are several factors which place you at greater risk for developing this illness. These include:
- Never giving birth
- Starting your period at an early age or beginning menopause early
- Short menstrual cycles
- Having high levels of estrogen
- Family history of endometriosis
- Any medical condition that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow out of the body
- Uterine abnormalities
Unfortunately, there is no cure but there are several treatment options. The doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and take the one of the following steps to determine if, in fact, you do have endometriosis:
- Pelvic exam
- Imaging test, such as ultrasound or MRI
- Hormonal birth control
- Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbs like cinnamon twig or licorice root, or supplements, including thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, or omega-3 fatty acids.
- Lowering your estrogen level by exercising regularly, taking birth control, or avoiding large amounts of alcohol and caffeine
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of endometriosis, contact your doctor immediately. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can be on the path to feeling better.