Endometriosis affects over 5-million women in North America. The disease is caused by the endometrial cells, or the cells of the lining of the uterus, abnormally growing in inappropriate areas of the body. The tissue acts just like the normal uterus, shedding its lining every month. Depending on the location of the abnormal tissue, this can cause massive scarring and bleeding in the body.
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Endometrial tissue is commonly found in the lining of the uterus but can spread to other areas, such as the outside of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries as well as to other internal organs, such as the intestines and bladder. If the tissue spreads to the lymphatic system, it can grow throughout the entire body. The only definitive test to confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis is through laparoscopy (a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to view abdominal organs), and treatment includes hormonal medications (such as birth control pills), pain killers, and surgery.
Let’s take a closer look at 15 of the most common symptoms of endometriosis…
1. Painful Menstruation
One of the most common symptoms of endometriosis is painful menstruation, which is known clinically as dysmenorrhea. This pain can start one week before ovulation and continue until one week after the end of menstruation. The pain may be crampy and/or constant. This cramping abdominal pain may radiate and come in waves. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this pain occurs when the endometrial tissue bleeds and has no way of exiting the body, which causes inflammation and pain. Over-the-counter pain medication is a good treatment option for painful menstruation. There are specialty medications specifically made for menstrual pain that include a mild muscle relaxant. In more severe cases, women can develop blood-filled cysts called endometriomas, explains Self Magazine. If these cysts rupture in the body, they’ll cause extreme pain and heavy bleeding.
However, some women can suffer from endometriosis and only experience a very mild level of pain. As a result, they’ll never seek help and might not realize they suffer from this condition for a long time. Self points out that this is one of the reasons this condition is so under-diagnosed. Also, many women just associate their periods with bad cramps, so they don’t know how to differentiate when something more is wrong. “There are some who either suppress or don’t articulate their symptoms, because they don’t want to admit they have a problem until it really interferes with their life,” says Tamer Seckin, MD, an NYC-based gynecologist when talking to Self Magazine.