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Beyond Period Pain: 5 Signs That You Might Have Endometriosis

  • Category: Women's Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Dr. Amber Whitear
Beyond Period Pain: 5 Signs That You Might Have Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful disease that affects six to ten percent of all women. It’s caused when the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. Under normal circumstances, a woman’s endometrial tissue sits inside her uterus and sheds during her period. But for women with endometriosis, that tissue is outside the uterus and attaches to other parts of the body, like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer uterus, or even the bowels. Pain from endometriosis becomes more severe as the disease grows and may even affect a woman’s fertility.

Dr. Amber Bradshaw-Whitear is one of the most prestigious gynecological surgeons in Utah. She’s been helping patients manage their endometriosis for over a decade. Here are five symptoms that could point to endometriosis.

The Most Common Symptom of Endometriosis

Women with endometriosis typically have very painful periods. If your period pain affects your ability to go to work or school, that’s not normal and should be evaluated,” says Dr. Whitear. Endometriosis grows when left unmanaged, so symptoms like those listed below can coincide with menstrual pain or start developing over time.

Sex is Painful

There are several reasons why sex might be painful, such as a vaginal infection, an undiagnosed STD, muscle pain or a lack of lubrication. But if you’re feeling the pain with intercourse, this could point to endometriosis. Endometriosis pain usually feels sudden or sharp, and it’s sometimes felt in the lower abdomen.

You have IBS or Bladder Issues

Can't get control of your irritable bowel syndrome or a bladder pain? There's a chance that endometriosis might be present. “Endometriosis grows mostly in the lower abdomen. Sometimes can attach itself to the bladder or bowels, leading to bowel and bladder pain,” says Dr. Whitear. If you have unresolved stomach or bladder problems, always bring them up to your gynecologist.

You’ve Struggled to Get Pregnant

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, up to half of women with endometriosis struggle to get pregnant (in fact, it’s one of the top causes of infertility). When endometriosis is severe, it can damage or block the fallopian tubes or create a harsh environment for your eggs.

“An early diagnosis is the best thing we can do for reproductive success,” says Dr. Whitear. Managing endometriosis early-on prevents its spread to organs. If you have a more severe case of endometriosis and wish to conceive, you have options.

“Hormones are prescribed for most patients with endometriosis, but we’ll take you off them to try for a pregnancy. If you cannot conceive within six to twelve months, that’s when we would consider things like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or surgery to remove the disease,” Dr. Whitear says. “IVF has been shown to overcome all endometriosis, but it’s unfortunately expensive,” she adds.

Does endometriosis affect a baby?

Believe it or not, pregnancy is a temporary treatment for endometriosis because hormones are heightened and the disease does not grow. Having endometriosis does not affect the development or the delivery of the baby.

You Have Lower Back or Abdominal Pain

It’s not uncommon for endometriosis to travel along the back wall of the pelvic cavity, facing the spine, which can trigger back pain. Or it may travel on the front wall of the pelvic cavity, facing your belly button, which can cause a lower stomachache.

How is Endometriosis Managed?

Endometriosis is a hormone-based disease that grows each month during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Taking hormone medication is the most effective way to level out hormones and stall the growth of the disease.

In severe cases, the abnormal growth tissues can be removed with laparoscopic surgery. Surgery has good outcomes but it does not completely cure endometriosis. “Unfortunately, some patients’ endometriosis is undertreated because they don’t continue taking hormones after having surgery,” says Dr. Whitear. “The only thing that completely cures endometriosis is menopause, but that growth and progression over 40 years can be miserable.”

Risks of Unmanaged Endometriosis

Very rarely, endometriosis can turn to uterine cancer (in about 1% of patients). But more often, the disease affects a woman’s quality of life in varying ways as it grows. “Having painful periods is hard enough—if you have one or more of these issues, tell your doctor about them,” says Dr. Whitear.

Dr. Amber Bradshaw-Whitear is a fellowship trained Minimally Invasive Gynecological Surgeon who practices at Ogden Regional Medical Center in Ogden, Utah. Her team sees patients of all ages for the full scope of gynecological services. Learn more about Women’s Health at Ogden Clinic here.