Periods are a natural part of life that women and those with a uterus have been (often silently) dealing with for ages. Intense period symptoms like cramps and other pain are seen as just a part of the process, even if it feels debilitating. Because of this, many people who experience periods simply take some pain medication and go about their day without questioning why they are in so much pain. However, this is not something to ignore as it could be something more serious like endometriosis.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic medical condition that occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus. Normally, what occurs in the body during a period is the endometrium thickens, breaks down and is shed. However, in individuals with endometriosis, this tissue also grows on other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the lining of the pelvis.
This misplaced endometrial tissue behaves similarly to the tissue inside the uterus when you are on your period. It thickens, breaks down. and attempts to shed during the menstrual cycle. However, because it has no way to exit the body like menstrual blood, it becomes trapped and can lead to various symptoms and complications.
John Hopkins Medicine reports that 10 percent of people with a uterus between the ages of 15 and 44 are affected by uncommon symptoms of endometriosis.
Common Endometriosis Symptoms
- Pelvic Pain: Endometriosis often causes chronic pelvic pain, which can range from mild to severe and may occur during menstruation or at other times throughout the menstrual cycle.
- Painful Menstruation (Dysmenorrhea): Women with endometriosis often experience more severe menstrual cramps than usual.
- Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia): Sexual intercourse may be painful due to the presence of endometrial tissue in the pelvic area.
- Painful Bowel Movements or Urination: Endometriosis lesions can impact the intestines or bladder, causing pain during bowel movements or urination, especially during menstruation.
- Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Some women with endometriosis may have heavier menstrual bleeding.
- Infertility: In severe cases, endometriosis can lead to fertility problems, as it can block or damage the fallopian tubes or impact the quality of eggs.
As you can probably tell now, endometriosis can present with a wide range of symptoms. While some symptoms are more common, there are several less common or atypical symptoms that some individuals with endometriosis may experience. It’s also important to note that the severity and combination of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. This makes it even more likely that someone who is familiar with the condition does not realize they have endometriosis.
Less Or Uncommon Symptoms Of Endometriosis
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Endometriosis lesions can affect the intestines, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating and nausea. Some individuals may be initially misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Bladder Symptoms: Endometriosis can involve the bladder, causing urinary frequency, urgency or discomfort during urination.
- Back Pain: While pelvic pain is a common symptom, some individuals with endometriosis may experience lower back pain that can be mistaken for musculoskeletal issues.
- Leg Pain: In rare cases, endometriosis lesions may affect nerves in the pelvic region, leading to leg pain, numbness or tingling.
- Chest Pain or Shortness of Breath: In extremely rare instances, endometriosis can spread to the chest cavity, causing symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
- Cyclical Respiratory Symptoms: Some individuals may experience cyclical symptoms like coughing, wheezing or even the coughing up of blood (hemoptysis) in rare cases, which can be associated with endometriosis affecting the diaphragm or pleura (the lining around the lungs).
- Cyclical Headaches or Migraines: Although less common, some women with endometriosis may notice an increase in headaches or migraines, especially during their menstrual cycle.
- Allergies or Skin Rashes: There have been reports of skin conditions and allergies worsening during menstruation in some individuals with endometriosis.
- Cyclical Joint Pain: A few individuals with endometriosis have reported joint pain that worsens during their menstrual cycle.
These are symptoms that can be caused by endometriosis but could also be the result of a different condition. That is why it is always important to seek an examination from a trained medical professional. The exact cause of endometriosis is not well understood, but it is thought to involve a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. Diagnosis often involves a combination of medical history, physical examination and imaging tests. The surest diagnostic method is a laparoscopic surgical procedure that allows a doctor to directly visualize and confirm the presence of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
Treatment for endometriosis can include pain management with medication, hormonal therapy to suppress the menstrual cycle and slow the growth of endometrial tissue, and in some cases, surgery to remove or destroy the lesions. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition, the individual’s symptoms and their desire for fertility.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition, and while there is no cure, many women and people with a uterus can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life with appropriate treatment and support. Consider this even if your pain is mild as the World Health Organization reports that endometriosis can start at a person’s first menstrual period and last until menopause.
Again, it’s important to emphasize that these less common symptoms should not automatically be attributed to endometriosis, as they can be associated with various other medical conditions. However, if you experience unusual or persistent symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation and discuss the possibility of endometriosis with a healthcare provider.
Early diagnosis and appropriate management can help improve the individual’s quality of life and potentially prevent complications associated with endometriosis. The time is now to break the stigma on discussing periods and silently enduring menstrual pain. Through education about our periods and the way they affect our bodies, endometriosis will no longer need to be feared and silently endured.