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Recognizing Endometriosis

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Endometriosis is a fairly common condition among women, and can occur at any point in life. It currently has no cure, but can be managed and treated through the use of contraceptives and surgery.

Because the symptoms of endometriosis are so similar to other conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and ovarian cancer, it can go undetected for years, slowly causing more and more damage. This is why it is so important to recognize its signs and symptoms and have it treated properly.

In women with endometriosis, the tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside the uterus and attaches to other organs within the body. This tissue can swell, bleed, and scar. When a woman is on her period, the body’s attempts to force this extra tissue out can lead to extreme pain and discomfort.

Sometimes this tissue can be detected with the use of an ultrasound, but if any of it is located between two organs, it may not show up at all. For this reason, the only way to truly diagnose endometriosis is through a type of surgery called a laparoscopy, which involves the use of cameras inserted into the lower abdomen by way of two or three small incisions.

Although many women experience painful periods, the true mark of endometriosis is pain during sex and other normal activities. Vaginal penetration can put abnormal force on the affected areas, causing a feeling of pressure, tenderness, or soreness. These are more readily felt in positions of deep penetration, and gradually increase over time.

Endometriosis often begins at menarche, or when a young woman has her very first period. One of the biggest warning signs is when periods slowly become heavier and more painful each continuing month.

Many gynecologists suppress endometriosis through the use of hormonal contraceptives, most often a birth control pill containing estrogen and progestin. This can help to regulate periods and reduce cramps by preventing ovulation from occurring. A great number of women also find comfort in pills that eliminate periods altogether, such as Seasonale or Lybrel.

Add a Comment2 Comments

Re: Diane P -- So true! Thanks for sharing. I have the "privilege" of going for my first laparoscopy on Friday, at the ripe old age of 23. For years, doctors would just tell me to take ibuprofen and use a heating pad. Uh, duh! It's such a relief to find a specialist who takes my symptoms seriously.

September 9, 2009 - 8:50am

As someone who was surprised to learn that I had endometriosis in my 30s, I want to thank you for your article and, for those who are reading, to emphasize this part: The change in your pain will be so slow you won't really realize it from month to month. It's more like thinking back over two years and deciding "wow, I never used to have cramps this long," or "I sure am taking more ibuprofen during the first two days of my period than I ever used to."

Many doctors don't naturally think about endometriosis. If your periods have grown more and more painful over a couple of years, ASK if it could be a possibility! I'll never forget how it felt the first couple months after my laparoscopy when I just had normal periods with only a typical amount of pain. It was life-altering to not have to wake myself up at night to take extra Advil, for instance.

Here's EmpowHer's encyclopedia page for those who need more explanation of endometriosis:


September 9, 2009 - 8:43am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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