Trish McMarrow, Clinical Nurse Educator
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus, usually in the abdomen on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This can have a devastating effect on a woman’s quality of life due to its painful symptoms. It is also one of the biggest causes of infertility in women. Adding to the problem is, symptoms are often missed or misdiagnosed completely. This is why raising awareness around what to look for and questions to ask your doctor can be vital in making sure you’re taking care of your fertility health.
The classic symptoms of endometriosis are abdominal pain, heavy periods and menstrual cramps. However, not everyone will experience the classic symptoms which is why it’s important to know the uncommon symptoms which include fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, pain with urination, bloating and/or nausea, especially during menstrual periods. In general, pain is the most common complaint. At home efforts, such as a heating pad or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that you can get over the counter (ibuprofen, Motrin, Naproxen, Aleve) can be a comfort. However, the best way to manage the pain is with the help from a physician. Hormonal treatment with oral contraceptives can offer some relief and more aggressive measures, such as surgically removing adhesions, might be necessary.
It’s important to be aware that endometriosis is sometimes mistaken for other conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or ovarian cysts. It may also be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes bouts of diarrhea, constipation and abdominal cramping. IBS can accompany endometriosis, which further complicates the diagnosis.
Another factor to consider is the severity of your pain isn't necessarily a reliable indicator of the extent of the condition. Some women with mild endometriosis have intense pain, while others with advanced endometriosis may have little pain or even no pain at all.
If you have even the slightest concern that endometriosis may be an issue for you, be proactive and speak to your doctor. I’d suggest creating a list and writing down any and all of symptoms that that are worrisome. Inform your OB/GYN what you’re experiencing. Track a few months of your period as well as the symptoms you’re having on which days and be specific!
Don't ignore what your body is telling you. If you feel that something is off, then you are likely right. Find a doctor you trust and can have an open and honest conversation with. Come prepared. Demand to get answers. In the end, stay positive and be your own advocate. It may take some knowledge, persistence, trial and error, but you will get to a comfortable place.