From Questions to Answers: Relief from Endometriosis

Learn how endometriosis is diagnosed and why it’s not so scary to seek medical attention, especially when treatment options are available.

“I’m just being overly sensitive.”

“This is part of normal periods.”

“Periods are supposed to be painful.”

“Women in my family have difficult periods.”

It’s that time of the month and once again, you’re trying to shift your focus to anything but the unbearable abdominal pain. You’re tired from those awful cramps, from having to miss several days of work, and from knowing that the next few days will be excruciating. Up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age suffer from endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus, grows outside the uterus, where it doesn’t belong. During a period, the misplaced tissue sheds and bleeds just like uterine tissue, but because it’s trapped outside the uterus, it leads to swelling, inflammation, and pain. A delay in seeking medical attention will only prolong the pain, frustration, and agony, and while having a discussion with a gynecologist may seem scary, living without relief from endometriosis seems scarier.

At your doctor’s appointment, a gynecologist will talk with you about your past medical history, perform a physical checkup, and ask some rather personal questions about your period-related symptoms, menstrual cycle, and sex. This is not the time to be shy or embarrassed. Next, the doctor will perform a pelvic exam, which typically lasts a few minutes and allows the gynecologist to examine and feel your reproductive organs, like the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, checking for any abnormalities like cysts, lesions, and growths. If necessary, your gynecologist may order some diagnostic imaging scans (like an ultrasound or an MRI) to confirm findings from the pelvic exam. A minor surgical procedure called a laparoscopy is the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis. During the procedure, a thin tube is inserted into your abdomen through a small incision and allows the doctor to inspect the outside of your reproductive organs and nearby organs within the pelvic cavity, take biopsies if necessary, and remove growths and lesions.

Endometriosis is a crafty, complex, and unpredictable disorder—mimicking gastrointestinal diseases, hiding behind the mask of “normal periods,” and severely disrupting daily life in some women while leaving others completely asymptomatic. Undiagnosed sufferers live with more questions than answers before finding out that endometriosis is responsible for the occasional or persistent pain and discomfort they feel with menstruation, bowel movements, urination, and even sex.

Women living with endometriosis need help, support, and understanding; not just from family and friends, but also medical professionals and society. You know your body best, so if you feel dismissed and your symptoms trivialized, seek a medical professional (preferably a gynecologist or endometriosis specialist) who will offer expertise, understanding, and empathy. Don’t just assume that your heavy periods and unbearable menstrual cramps are normal. Most women diagnosed with endometriosis find not only answers, but relief. If you have any questions or concerns about endometriosis, take the first step and talk with your gynecologist.

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