To close out Endometriosis Awareness Month, we are answering some of the top questions about this often painful condition affecting 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the US—including symptoms, treatments, and ways to reduce your chance of developing it.
What exactly is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of your uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong, including:
- Outer surface of the uterus
- Fallopian tubes
- Tissues that hold the uterus in place
What does it feel like?
Symptoms can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods
- Uncomfortable bowel movements
- Very painful menstrual cramps
- Lower back pain that may occur at any time during your menstrual cycle
How is endometriosis detected?
For those experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, doctors may use a variety of methods to make a formal diagnosis:
- Pelvic exam — During a pelvic exam, your doctor will feel for large cysts or scars behind your uterus.
- Imaging test—Your doctor may do an ultrasound or MRI to check for ovarian cysts from endometriosis.
- Laparoscopy—Doctors perform laparoscopy (surgery where a doctor looks internally with a camera through the belly button) to check for endometriosis lesions and remove a sample of the tissue. This is the most definitive method of diagnosing.
- Medicine—If your doctor does not find signs of an ovarian cyst during an ultrasound, he or she may prescribe medicine such as hormonal birth control.
How is it treated?
Non-invasive therapies use medication. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce the pain. So can medications that control hormones, such as birth control pills.
Severe cases may require invasive surgery, in which the doctor treats the endometriosis by removing or burning off lesions and scar tissue.
How can I prevent it?
While endometriosis can’t be prevented completely, you can reduce your chances of developing it by lowering the levels of the estrogen hormone in your body.
You can lower estrogen levels by:
- Taking hormonal birth control methods, such as pills, patches or rings with lower doses of estrogen
- Exercising regularly (more than 4 hours per week) and maintaining a low percentage of body fat
- Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day
- Limiting consumption of caffeinated beverages
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms, we encourage you to set up an appointment with a doctor who can help determine if you might have endometriosis and help you manage your experience to get back to living life more fully.