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Bad Cramps? March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month

By HERWriter
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March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month PS Productions/PhotoSpin

Many women experience minor cramps at some point during their menstrual cycles, but what if you’re having excruciating pain before and during your period, and have other bothersome side effects like fatigue, painful sex, and diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems?

You could be suffering from the condition endometriosis. This condition affects an estimated 5 million women in the United States, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The condition involves tissue from the uterus migrating to other areas of the body, causing growths and pain, according to the Endometriosis Association.

However, many women don’t even have symptoms or know they have the condition. According to the institute, a 2011 survey found that 11 percent of a group of women who had no signs of endometriosis actually had it.

Experts don’t even officially know what causes endometriosis, although it’s suspected that genetics plays a role, as well as environmental factors and a susceptibility to hormonal and immune system complications, according to the Endometriosis Association.

Fortunately there are treatment options. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, pain medication, hormonal treatments (like birth control pills) and surgical treatments are all options to reduce pain.

Dr. Amy Day, a naturopathic doctor and hormone expert, said in an email that besides physical side effects, there can be mental health issues associated with endometriosis.

“When a woman is in pain, it affects every aspect of her life,” Day said. “Many women start planning their lives around ‘that time of the month’ because they cannot function when the pain gets so bad.”

“It can be very isolating because the woman looks fine on the outside, and people around her don't believe her or think she is exaggerating,” she added.

Women may feel depressed, worried, afraid, hopeless and isolated, especially if they are suffering from infertility along with pain.

Day has personally suffered from the condition since she was a teenager, and was diagnosed officially through laparoscopic surgery in 2001. This diagnostic procedure involves a tube with a camera being inserted into the abdomen.

She said the treatment plan that works for her includes following an anti-inflammatory diet, managing stress, exercising regularly, engaging in yoga and acupuncture, and eating fish oil, herbs and supplements. She has undergone two surgeries as well, since she has stage IV endometriosis which is the worst kind.

Jessica Cashman, the founder and psychotherapist for the Center for the Psychology of Women, has suffered from endometriosis since age 11. She said in an email that she most commonly hears that women with endometriosis suffer from painful periods and emotional issues.

“The feeling of being out of control emotionally is very straining because it seems to come out of the blue, and they feel as if they have no control over going into a rage or breaking out in tears,” Cashman said. “Additionally, the physical pain endured causes an emotional toll as does not being able to do their normal activities.”

She added that in her own case, she went on birth control to manage her symptoms, but it was only after having a hysterectomy for another health issue that she finally felt relief from her endometriosis.

Dr. Kevin Audlin, the co-director of The Endometriosis Center at Mercy Medical Center, said in an email that another issue to be aware of is that women may feel so much chronic pain that they become dependent on narcotic pain medication.

Many women are told that the pain is in their heads, and they aren’t properly diagnosed with endometriosis, which could lead to some depression and self-doubt, he added.

“There are many women who are not aware, because they are the first in their family, or their other family members have been told to ‘deal with the pain’ of their cycles, not realizing that the pain is not normal or appropriate,” Audlin said.

He said some common side effects related to endometriosis include irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, bloating, lower back pain and painful urination.

Audlin added that he sees an association between endometriosis and women who put stress on their bodies by having poor sleep patterns and diet, smoking and drinking alcohol.


Healthfinder.gov. 2014 National Health Observances. Web. March 19, 2014.

Endometriosis Association. What is Endometriosis? Web. March 19, 2014.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How many people are affected by or at risk for endometriosis? What are the treatments for endometriosis? Web. March 19, 2014.

Day, Amy. Email interview. March 17, 2014.

Cashman, Jessica. Email Interview. March 19, 2014.

Audlin, Kevin. Email interview. March 19, 2014.

Reviewed March 20, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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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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