Although endometriosis impacts the lives of 2 to 10 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 40, it can take up to 10 years before the disease is properly diagnosed. During national Endometriosis Awareness Month, information about this condition can help women recognize the symptoms so they can seek help.

Endometriosis is a condition in which the lining of the uterus, which typically grows inside the uterus, begins to grow outside the uterus. The tissue can become attached to other organs and areas including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, and other areas within the abdominal or pelvic cavity. Because the lining of the uterus sheds during menstruation, when the lining appears outside the uterus, this process can cause intense and debilitating pain and can lead to scarring, adhesions, and even fertility problems.

Because endometriosis is a progressive disease, diagnosing it early can help prevent some of the scarring and adhesions that cause such great pain and can interfere with fertility plans for nearly 176 million women who have it. Currently the only way to confirm a suspected endometriosis diagnosis is with surgery.

Although the condition can cause pain that is great enough to interfere with a woman’s normal daily activities, many women don’t realize something could be wrong. They may chalk up the pain to intense menstrual cramps–and this can be reinforced by family members who had particularly painful periods and healthcare professionals who don’t acknowledge the reports of severe pain.

If your patients complain of unusual pelvic symptoms, finding out more information can help them if endometriosis is a potential culprit. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some symptoms that could be a red flag for endometriosis and what healthcare providers should know about this women’s health condition.

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Intense pelvic pain isn’t normal

If a patient mentions periods that keep her home from work or school or that interfere with her normal daily activities, additional screening is a good idea.

The pain isn’t always during a period

Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose because it doesn’t always look the same in every person. Some women report pain outside the parameters of their periods or they may report pain during intercourse.

It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms

Sometimes endometriosis can cause constipation, nausea, diarrhea, or pain with a bowel movement.

Family history counts

Women who have first degree relatives with a history of endometriosis (or suspected but not diagnosed) are at increased risk of having the condition.

Fertility problems can result

When scarring from endometriosis becomes extensive, it can impact fertility so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. The longer scar tissue builds up, the more difficult it is to clear it up. If a patient is having problems getting pregnant and reports any of these other symptoms, further screening can help rule out endometriosis or give a proper diagnosis.

Additional information about endometriosis can be found through the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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