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.