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