Endometriosis is a common condition that affects approximately 6 million women in the United States. Yet it often goes undiagnosed for years because its symptoms are often mistaken for normal menstrual cycle symptoms.
“Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus or womb grows outside of the uterus and on other areas of the body where it doesn't belong,” said Erika Johnston-MacAnanny, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology-reproductive medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Approximately 10 percent of reproductive-age women have endometriosis, which is most frequently diagnosed between ages 30 and 50, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Infertility is a common problem associated with endometriosis. While many women with endometriosis are able to conceive, they may find it more difficult to get pregnant. About 40 percent of women dealing with infertility issues have endometriosis, the ACOG says.
“When inflammation from endometriosis occurs in the fallopian tubes and uterus, it can damage the sperm or egg or hinder their movement,” Johnston-MacAnanny said. “In extreme cases of endometriosis, adhesions or scar tissue can block the fallopian tubes.”
According to Johnston-MacAnanny and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, symptoms of endometriosis can include:
- Chronic and painful (sometimes even debilitating) menstrual cramps, which may get worse over time.
- Heavy menstrual periods.
- Premenstrual spotting or bleeding between periods.
- Discomfort during or after intercourse and in the intestine or lower abdomen.
- Painful bowel movements or urination during menstrual periods.
Johnston-MacAnanny encourages any woman experiencing symptoms of endometriosis to inform her doctor. Although surgery, such as laparoscopy, is the gold standard for diagnosis, often medical treatments can be used first to avoid invasive procedures she says.
“It’s important to listen to your body and be aware that some cramps and discomfort are normal during a menstrual cycle, but they shouldn’t be unbearable or conflict with your daily schedule,” said Johnston-MacAnanny. “Although there is no cure for endometriosis, treatments are available for the symptoms and problems associated with it.”