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Most women experience some level of discomfort during their periods. Bloating and cramps are often the most referenced. But for the one in ten women who suffer from endometriosis, their pain is much worse and more disruptive.
“Endometriosis is when the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, is outside the uterus in places it’s not supposed to be, such as in the pelvis or on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and surrounding bowel,” says Dr. Steven Crawford, an OB-GYN with Kettering Health.
The telltale sign of endometriosis is extreme pain during a period that either birth control pills or hormone treatments don’t help. Other symptoms may include chronic pelvic pain, pain during sex, painful bowel movements, and infertility.
How physicians treat endometriosis
Talking to your doctor is essential if you think you may have endometriosis. They can give you an official diagnosis and direct you toward the best treatment.
“The gold standard,” says Dr. Crawford, “to diagnose endometriosis is laparoscopy.”
During this procedure, a physician inserts a camera through a small incision in the abdomen. Through the camera, the physician looks at the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes, and the lining of the pelvis and abdomen to make a diagnosis. The physician may excise, cauterize, or use a laser to remove the endometriosis during the laparoscopy.
Considered a minimally invasive procedure, laparoscopy is a bit more involved than just taking medication. For this reason, your physician will most likely try hormonal contraceptive medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) before taking this step.
As a final step, your doctor may try Lupron, a hormone therapy. This treatment essentially puts the ovaries into menopause a month at a time for about six months to help stop the growth of endometriosis.
Take endometriosis seriously
According to Dr. Crawford, the way endometriosis is discussed and treated continues to change—and for good reason.
“OB-GYN physicians are currently treating endometriosis more often, and it’s something we have to think about in terms of long-term fertility,” Dr. Crawford says. “Up to 40% of women with infertility have endometriosis.”
Endometriosis can also cause emotional distress in addition to physical pain.
“There are support groups for adolescents who miss school and for women who have pelvic pain,” Dr. Crawford says. “In addition to that support, they can learn about things like acupuncture or herbal therapy that may have worked for other women with their condition.”