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March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. This is a post that looks at this complicated condition.
Endometriosis is a common, but not well-known, condition that can occur in menstruating women. While symptoms normally start out mild, they can become severe and even lead to infertility. This is why it’s so important for all women who get their period to understand what this disease is and how to spot it. That way, it can be diagnosed and treated before the damage is too extensive.
What Is Endometriosis?
Every month, menstruating women develop a layer of endometrial cells inside their uterus. In women with endometriosis, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, these cells grow up and outside the uterus as well as inside.
When a woman has her period, these endometrial cells leave the body, but if they are not inside the uterus, they have no way to escape. These cells can grow on, into, and between the uterus, ovaries, bowels, and bladder. Very rarely the growths can spread even further, which is much more serious. The most common location for these growths is on the ovaries.
The problem with endometriosis is that many women don’t have any symptoms, or the symptoms remain so mild that their condition is not detected for many years. That’s why it’s important to have regular pelvic exams. While pain and infertility are the easiest ways to realize you have endometriosis, your doctor may also be able to catch it during routine examinations.
The most common symptoms are:
- Painful menstrual cramps that worsen with time. While you may have cramps when you first start getting your period, they should worsen with endometriosis due to the growth that usually occurs with each cycle.
- Persistent pain in the back or lower abdomen.
- Pain during sexual intercourse, urination, or bowel movements. These symptoms are more likely during menstruation.
- Heavy periods, short menstrual cycle (less than 27 days), and spotting between cycles. Because this is considered the cause of endometriosis, this should start before any other symptoms appear and often occurs as soon as you start getting your period. Many women with endometriosis also started getting their period at an early age.
- Infertility. Many women don’t discover they have endometriosis until they see a fertility specialist because they have been unsuccessful at conceiving.
- Fatigue. This may be mild or more severe.
If you have some or all of these symptoms, it’s important for you to talk to a doctor right away. Because symptoms come on slowly or are nonexistent, it may take a while to recognize what’s wrong and can keep you from being treated. Also, many of these symptoms are associated with other potentially serious problems. Your doctor can help you sort out your symptoms and receive proper treatment.
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This article provides general information and discussion about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.