Pelvic pain, disabling cramps, extreme fatigue, painful sex, or infertility--all can warn of endometriosis.
This poorly understood disease devastates millions of women with no regard to race or income. It's a leading cause of infertility.
No one's sure what causes endometriosis. Some doctors believe it occurs when menstrual fluid backs up through a woman's fallopian tubes (which move eggs from the ovaries to the womb) and falls into the pelvis behind the womb. Others blame heredity, immune disorders, or cellular changes. But it's not an infection or cancer.
A highly vascular tissue called the endometrium lines the uterus. In endometriosis, that tissue appears outside the uterus. It can grow on the outside of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowels, bladder, rectum, and surgical scars, or almost anywhere on the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity. In rare cases, it turns up in the lungs.
Outside the uterus, this tissue acts just as it would inside the uterus. Each month it breaks down and bleeds as a result of hormonal signals. But, without the normal cervical or vaginal outlet, the body can't get rid of the waste. Tissue and old blood can build up, causing inflammation, swelling, and scarring.
Endometriosis often causes great pain.
But the degree of pain doesn't reflect the severity of the disease. Some women have no pain, while others with severe menstrual pain don't have the disease.
Surgery is the only sure way to diagnose the ailment. Doctors make a small incision and use a lighted instrument called a laparoscope to look inside the body.
Treatments include pain medicines, hormones, and surgery. Pregnancy also helps, by making lesions linked to the disease shrink and eventually heal, although they can return.
But the best treatment--and the degree of relief--varies from woman to woman.
Are you at risk?
How many of these symptoms have you had for at least six months?
Pelvic pain. The pain may have a monthly pattern, for example being worse during your period and/or midcycle. Some women have constant pain.
Fatigue, exhaustion, low energy
Diarrhea, painful bowel movements, or other stomach upset at the time of your period.
Stomach bloating and swelling
Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding
Pain with sexual intercourse
If you said "yes" to any questions, tell your health care provider about your symptoms.
Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Caffeine Oral powder
Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Caffeine Oral tablet
Progesterone Vaginal insert
Diclofenac Epolamine Medicated topical patch
Diclofenac Sodium Topical gel
Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride, Magnesium Salicylate Tetrahydrate Oral tablet
Norethindrone Acetate Oral tablet
Ketoprofen Oral capsule, extended-release
Nafarelin Acetate Nasal spray
Diclofenac Sodium Oral tablet
Ibuprofen Oral drops, suspension
Ibuprofen Chewable tablet
Urofollitropin (FSH) Solution for injection
Celecoxib Oral capsule
Naproxen Oral suspension
Naproxen Oral tablet, delayed-release
Ibuprofen Oral suspension
Diclofenac Sodium Eye drops, solution
Diclofenac Potassium Oral tablet
Diclofenac Sodium Oral tablet, extended-release
Black Cohosh Root Extract Oral tablet
Goserelin Acetate Implant
Menotropins (FSH), Menotropins (LH) Solution for injection
Leuprolide Acetate Implant
Leuprolide Acetate Solution for injection
Ganirelix Acetate Solution for injection
Follitropin Alfa Solution for injection
Follitropin Beta Solution for injection
Clomiphene Citrate Oral tablet
Cetrorelix Acetate Solution for injection
Norethindrone Oral tablet
Danazol Oral capsule
Progesterone Oral capsule
Progesterone Vaginal suppository
Progesterone Vaginal gel
Progesterone Oil for injection