Is It Period Pain… or Endometriosis?

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. So… is it just a bad period, or is it endometriosis? We’re going to dive into that!

Don’t have time to read this post? Watch the video here instead!

But first, here are five interesting facts about endometriosis. 

Fact #1: In addition to period pain and sexual pain, endometriosis causes infertility.

In fact, 50% of infertile women have endometriosis. But did you know that endometriosis can also cause problems with pregnancy (including preterm delivery, low birth weight, severe bleeding at delivery due to placenta accreta)? Case reports of appendicitis and spontaneous bowel rupture have also been reported due to tearing of endometriosis bowel scars as the uterus grows out of the pelvis. 

Fact #2: Endometriosis can affect women in all stages of life.

Although endometriosis classically presents during a woman’s reproductive years, It can also cause pain in women before puberty and after menopause! 

Fact #3: Endometriosis is uterine tissue that occurs outside of the uterus.

This scar-type tissue is stimulated by estrogen and most commonly causes inflammation of pelvic organs (including the ovaries, bowel, and bladder). 

Fact #4: Endometrioma Cysts 

Endometriosis of the ovary — or endometrioma cysts — contain thick, fibrotic walls and surface adhesions. The cyst contains a thick, chocolatey-colored liquid and are actually referred to as “chocolate cysts.”

Which fact is most surprising so far? Which do you want to hear more about? Drop a comment below! 

Fact #5: Can ovarian endometriosis turn into cancer?

We’ll come right back to that!

Now I’m sure many of you are wondering whether there’s a difference between really crampy periods and endometriosis. So let’s take a look at the clinical perspective of what standard period cramping should look like. 

Every month, you’re going to have a process where an egg is ovulated, and this results in a menstrual flow if pregnancy fertilization doesn’t occur. So during this time period (somewhere between three and seven days), there’s going to be a lot of inflammation which will result in cramping. 

Now typically this can be managed with over-the-counter medicines like Motrin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol.

But if you’re experiencing pains that are much worse (like when medications aren’t touching the pain or you need to take time off of work), then you likely have endometriosis

Now endometriosis involves the entire pelvis, not just the uterus. And over-the-counter medications won’t work here. It may actually require narcotic medication (or nerve medications) to manage this severe level of pain.

And because the inflammation involves the entire pelvis, it can affect the bladder — resulting in urinary urgency or leaking during the period. It can affect the bowel, resulting in diarrhea or constipation around the period time.

And in severe cases, there can actually be blood in the urine or blood in the stool! In addition, a patient might experience nausea, their stomach being upset, bloating — and oftentimes sexual pain.

As a physician, I suspect endometriosis in patients who constantly use a heating pad. There’s also thermal damage to the skin that can occur (which is a telltale sign!). Another red flag is a patient with pain so bad that they end up in the emergency room or urgent care. Unfortunately, since most imaging cannot detect endometriosis, patients rarely get the help they need in that setting and are dismissed (or worse, are labeled as drug-seekers)! 

Our patients with endometriosis need help. And more awareness needs to be brought to this topic.

The average patient sees seven doctors and has three surgeries before they even find an expert who can treat the disease. But you can skip the pain and frustration by contacting an endometriosis specialist.

Now how do we treat endometriosis?

You can watch many of our videos that talk about natural treatments, pain medications, and hormonal therapy — although all of these treatments have multiple purposes.

There’s one medication specifically designed only to suppress endometriosis called elagolix.

Now if surgery is required, make certain your provider performs many of these surgeries in their practice and that they don’t just burn (or ablate) the tissue — they actually perform a surgical incision.

As promised, the answer to the fifth question…

Advanced endometriosis of the ovary can more than double your risk of ovarian cancer.

One in ten women have suffered from endometriosis. Let’s help raise awareness!