Pelvic Pain Meet Your End(ometriosis): The Diagnosis Millions Of Womxn Are Missing
Being a womxn is pretty awesome – we’re all about feminism and the freedom, independence, and opportunities that come from it. But one part of being a womxn that can be less amazing sometimes is period pain.
If you’ve ever spent time in agony on the couch with a heating pad and Tylenol, you’re not alone. Menstrual cramps and PMS pains can be brutal. But could your misery be caused by something more than just period pain?
Let's talk about endometriosis – a health condition that many womxn have, but might not realize. Here’s what you need to know.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a medical disorder that causes uterine tissue to grow in places other than the uterus. A throwback to high-school biology: when you get your period, this is your body shedding the monthly build-up of tissue that occurs in your uterus, or womb. Essentially, the uterine lining grows so a fertilized egg can attach, but if you’re not pregnant, it goes away via menstruation.
For those with endometriosis, however, this uterine lining grows in places it shouldn’t, such as your ovaries, pelvic tissue, and bowels. It thickens like normal uterine tissue, and then breaks down, but has no way to exit the body – leading to serious pelvic pain.
Sadly, this disorder can leave womxn in extreme agony, especially when their periods are due. It tends to feel much worse than “normal” period pain, making it impossible to get out of bed, let alone go to work or function as an adult. But once diagnosed, it can be treated!
How do you know if your pelvic pain is caused by period pains or endometriosis? It can be tough to tell, unfortunately, so visiting your doctor is always the best way to learn more.
However, there are also some symptoms to look out for, including:
- Pain before, during, and after your period, including in the pelvic area, lower back, and abdominal area
- Discomfort during sex
- Pain when peeing or during bowel movements
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Fatigue, bloating, and constipation
Yikes, those symptoms sound rough – we feel for everyone experiencing endometriosis, and encourage you to seek medical advice if any of the above sound familiar. However, not everyone will experience all of these symptoms.
So how is endometriosis diagnosed?
If left untreated, endo can impact your fertility and make it difficult to have children in the future, which is why it’s always better to act sooner rather than later. If you’re worried that something just doesn’t feel right, check in with your doctor, who will ask you about your symptoms and do a pelvic exam, feeling for cysts or scars.
Endometriosis can’t always be felt, so an MRI or ultrasound might also be used. Don’t worry, though – these are commonly used imaging tests and you shouldn’t feel too much discomfort while they’re being done.
Can endometriosis be treated?
If you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, there are a few options for treatment, depending on how severe your symptoms are. For more mild cases, pain medication is recommended, such as Advil or Aleve. Some babes also find that hormonal birth control can reduce their symptoms. (The issue with this, of course, is that if you stop taking it, your symptoms are likely to come back.)
In more serious cases, surgery can be a solution. One option is known as conservative surgery and involves removing the endometriosis tissue. Less commonly, a hysterectomy and ovary removal is performed, which removes the uterus. This will stop your symptoms, but it also means you won’t be able to have children, so if that’s something you want, it should be a last resort.
Endometriosis treatment is a personal decision, so it’s totally okay to take time to think things through before you make your choice as to which option would work best for you.
Why does endometriosis often go undiagnosed?
If endometriosis is such a serious problem, why is it so hard to get a diagnosis? We’re glad you asked – there are a number of reasons for this.
First, it’s just one of many things that can cause pain, so it’s often misdiagnosed as something else. What causes pelvic pain in females? Unfortunately, a wide range of issues, including menstrual cramps, ovulation, food intolerances, STIs, and irritable bowel syndrome. With so many causes, doctors often miss endometriosis and assume it’s something more common, like normal menstrual cramps.
This brings us to another point: if you think your doctor isn’t taking your concerns seriously, get the heck outta there! As a patient, you’re always entitled to a second opinion. Throughout history, it’s often been the case (especially with male doctors) that the concerns of female patients are discounted as trivial or irrelevant. It happens less often now, but sadly it’s still possible that a doctor just might not take you seriously. If this happens, find another one ASAP. There are plenty of caring, knowledgeable doctors who understand how difficult endometriosis pain can be and will help you as much as they can.
Here’s one good thing: awareness is definitely increasing when it comes to endometriosis. Thanks to more and more media coverage and awareness work being done through charities like the Endometriosis Foundation of America, womxn are becoming savvier about this important health issue.
Should I see a doctor for pelvic pain?
If you’re worried about endo, or you just have a feeling that something’s not right with your periods, always talk to your doctor. They’re always the best source of knowledge on all things health-related (sorry, Google!) and can provide you with all the information you need. While you’re there, you can also ask your doc any questions you might have about things like contraception options or other niggling health concerns. It’s also okay to ask for a female doctor, if that makes you feel more relaxed.
While a diagnosis of endometriosis isn’t something any of us want, your medical team can help you manage it so that you can get back to enjoying life.