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Ask any woman—menstrual periods are a literal pain. Nonetheless, though the exact level of discomfort varies, the infamous cycle should never completely disrupt a daily routine. If you or a loved one suffers from extreme, debilitating abdominal pain around that time of the month, endometriosis may be to blame.

Endometriosis arises when tissue akin to the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, grows outside of its normal location. In most cases, endometriosis involves one or more areas around other female reproductive features, such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes, but it can also extend to the pelvic region and beyond. While the tissue still grows and breaks down with each cycle, it has no route to exit the body, thus potentially resulting in the formation of painful cysts, scar tissue, and/or abnormal adhesions between internal organs. Symptoms of endometriosis differ among patients; however, the most common ones are the pelvic pain at any point in time and severe period cramps. Some other possible signs of endometriosis include excessive bleeding, painful urination, pain during sexual intercourse, and diarrhea.

Endometriosis occurs when tissue grows outside of the uterus.

Image Source: JACOPIN /BSIP

Unlike many other medical conditions, endometriosis can happen to any female—though having a female relative with the illness increases risk, women and adolescent girls of any age or race are susceptible. Current estimates suggest that 176 million women around the world suffer from endometriosis. However, perhaps due to media portrayal of extensive period pain as normal, endometriosis often goes undiagnosed until later in life when a woman decides to have children. According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, roughly 30-40% of women with endometriosis also struggle with infertility.

Since endometriosis currently has no cure, prescription medication and surgery serve as the primary forms of treatment. Pain relievers and various hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills) work for some women, but others may require a procedure like laparoscopic surgery (for hopeful mothers) or a full hysterectomy (for women no longer expecting).

Menstrual periods do not have to be painful, and moreover, they shouldn’t be. Normalizing symptoms could affect fertility in the future, so if you think you could have endometriosis, be sure to contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

Featured Image Source: day 045. by Holly Lay

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