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Endometriosis can Reach Your Bowel and Bladder

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Having endometriosis is tricky business. For many women, it’s something you have to “look forward to” every month. Sometimes friends and family don’t understand the pain you are enduring with your cycle. And sometimes endometriosis is causing abnormalities in your reproductive area, pelvis and gut that you can’t even feel.

As defined by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus and gets shed during menstrual cycles for some reason is found growing outside the uterus, usually on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or other pelvic structures. In many cases that endometrium -- the lining -- can cause problems such as chronic abdominal pain, pressure or fullness in the pelvis, debilitating menstrual cramps, pain with intercourse and, sadly, infertility, according to ACOG.

Endometriosis can be an issue not only in a woman’s reproductive area, but also in the bowel and bladder. That’s because the displaced tissue responds to changes in hormones and can break down and bleed each month just as if it were in the uterus. Scar tissue, or adhesions, can form, sometimes binding organs together with painful results.

So, for many women having endometriosis, it’s not just the discomfort of a menstrual cycle but also pain that extends outward toward the digestive system. During a menstrual period, there can be diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, aches in the lower back, and pain during bowel movements and urination.

More than 5 million American women have endometriosis, with it most often hitting women in their 30s and 40s, according to a fact sheet from womenshealth.gov.

The fact sheet also noted that sometimes women can have endometrial growths in a number of areas outside the uterus yet feel no pain. On the other hand, some women with endometriosis have only a few abnormal growths and still feel severe pain.

Researchers are looking at associations between endometriosis and a number of conditions, including allergies, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, certain cancers and yeast infections. Also, a recent study looked at the possible role of the toxic chemical dioxin in increased cases of endometriosis.

Wherever your pain lies during your menstrual periods, be sure to seek help from a healthcare practitioner. Strides are being made in the use of pain medications, birth control pills and other hormonal combinations, along with outpatient laparoscopic surgery.


“Chronic Pelvic Pain.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.” Web. 31 Aug. 2011. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp099.cfm

“Endometriosis fact sheet.” womenshealth.gov. Web. 31 Aug. 2011. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/endometriosis.cfm

Reviewed August 31, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment4 Comments

I would also like to comment, with all due respect to Deborah Ross, that endometriosis "hitting most women in their 30's and 40's" seems a little misleading to me, even if the source seems respectable.
From what I have read over the years, I believe it is diagnosed in the 30's and 40's.
If I were on this site to get info as a teen or 20-year-old with severe cramps, I might think that my instinct about having endo is wrong after reading that sentence.
The truth is that many teens have it. I did.
But it usually goes undiagnosed for an average of ten years.
And that's why it "hits" in the 30s and 40s.
So, I'm not very pleased to read that here. Again, with due respect.

November 20, 2011 - 8:26am
(reply to laneyj)

You make a very good point, and I hope that slowly but surely the word gets out to young women, teens and healthcare practitioners that the symptoms that correlate with endometriosis could indeed be just that. Thanks for your input.

November 21, 2011 - 4:58pm

This is just my opinion. In my own experience, the pill helped the pain I felt with my period, but I'm sort of worried that it may give a false sense of having been "cured." My endo - turned out to be stage IV when I finally had the laparoscopy after years of pain - was constricting my bladder (or more precisely, the urethra). Before being diagnosed with endo, whenever I went to doctors to talk about this bladder pain, I made sure to mention the cramps that I had lived with for years, because I thought there might be a link. But the doctors would ask if I still had that pain. I, of course, said no. I noticed many doctors over the years (it took more than a decade for me to be diagnosed) discounting the cramps when I told them they were gone.
That's always made me think.
I had never heard of endometriosis until I was in my 30's, and by then I had seen so many doctors for my bladder problem that I can't even remember them all, (but many were gynocologists). I do remember, though, wanting to lie and tell them I still had cramps, because I had such a strong instinct that the two were related.
I never lied. I just followed their lead. They were the specialists, after all...
and so my cramp pain just moved to bladder pain and neither got diagnosed as endo until years later, after 2 miscarriages, and 5 years of fertility problems.
Doctors tend to treat what ails us, which is normal, but in this case, it turns out to be a missing element in the necessary information for diagnosis. If it's no longer occurring, in my experience, many doctors will not give it much importance, when, on the contrary, it is essential information.
This was my personal experience.

November 20, 2011 - 8:19am

Endo often starts in the teen years--we are now finding girls as young as 8 with endo--even before their first period! Moms out there--if your daughter's menstrual pain is not relieved by an over-the-counter analgesic and a heating pad, please consider endo as a possibility. Early treatment may forestall an escalation of the disease later, and may preserve fertility.

The environmental link mentioned in this article is very important--there are too many chemicals around us that are endocrine disruptors, affecting our hormonal systems--even in the womb!

Also important is the link between endo and other conditions/diseases. There seems to be a link between endo and allergies, TMJ, vulvodynia, CFIDS, Sjogrens syndrome, interstitial cystitis, and others; also an increased risk for a number of cancers, including melanoma, breast, ovarian, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Please see www.EndometriosisAssn.org and two books from the Association, "Endometriosis: The Complete Reference for Taking Charge of Your Health" and "The Endometriosis Sourcebook," for more information.

September 1, 2011 - 12:30pm
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