One in 10 women worldwide deals with endometriosis, a disease characterised by endometrial-like tissue growing outside of the uterus. This condition can bring inflammation and ultimately affect organ function, causing pain and intense fatigue. In other words, this is one not to be ignored.
In the United States alone, 7-10 million women have endometriosis, and about 200 million suffer worldwide. Unfortunately, endometriosis is not easy to diagnose. On average it takes a decade before the sufferer finds out that this is the culprit behind their pain and discomfort.
Indeed, one barrier to reaching a diagnosis is the lack of non-invasive methods used in its diagnosis. The only way to confirm endometriosis is through a diagnostic laparoscopy, which is a surgical procedure. What’s more, a general lack of knowledge of this disease, as well as the presence of a gender pain gap (where generally women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s) both contribute to a low diagnosis rate worldwide. This is why it’s important to understand this disease and become aware of its symptoms. We’re here to help with that; here are 5 symptoms of endometriosis and how to manage them.
Cramps are common during your period, sure, but with endometriosis, the pain becomes so severe that it can render you unable to commit to your day-to-day tasks. These cramps are often described as “killer cramps” because they are so intense that over-the-counter drugs may not work to lessen their severity. Generally characterised by a throbbing and stabbing sensation in your belly or lower abdomen, it might feel like your insides are being twisted. Women with endometriosis also typically experience longer and heavier periods.
Exercising while experiencing extreme pelvic pain might seem like the last thing you’d want to do, but working out could, in fact, ease the pain. This is because running, biking, or other forms of brisk exercise may lower the levels of estrogen in the body, reducing your period flow. Aerobic workouts may also increase endorphins, which help the body become less sensitive to pain.
Like all treatments for endometriosis, it’s important to be mindful that this isn’t a one size fits all approach; some women report that exercising helps manage pain while others complain of more pain during or after activity. Therefore, it’s important to consult an endometriosis specialist when considering any treatment.
BACK AND LEG ACHES
Endometriomas (the growths caused by endometriosis) grow on many organs and can even cause nerve damage. Many suffering with endometriosis report having localised lower back pain and leg aches which can be uncomfortable at best and debilitating at worst.
What’s more, because of those killer cramps we already mentioned, you might frequently hunch over, adopting a poor posture for momentary pain relief, hurting your back as a result. Since endometriosis affects the nerves linking your groin, hips, and legs, the pain from this could make even walking difficult.
It should be noted that if your back pain is related to endometriosis, seeing a chiropractor won’t alleviate the symptoms. Seeking a diagnosis from a gynaecologist will serve you best going forward here, though heat therapy has been cited as an effective short term solution to the pain.
If you ever feel a stabbing or sharp pain or if your pelvic area hurts while having sex, it could be a symptom of endometriosis. One reason is because penetration stretches the endometrial tissue if it’s attached to the lower uterus or behind the vagina. Pelvic dysfunction is also common for those with endometriosis and can be another cause for pain during sex. Managing this symptom requires your partner’s understanding. If they don’t have that, bin them sharpish.
Often times a pelvic floor physical therapist is recommended to help ease painful symptoms associated with sex, but fortunately, there are also sex positions and even sex toys that can ease the pressure on the area where the endometrial tissue is. For instance, being on top gives you more control over the movement and depth of the penetration, which can benefit psychologically with the pain, as well as physically. Some positions like face-to-face and spooning are also comfortable for women with endometriosis since they involve a more shallow penetration. Talk, experiment, and be creative with your partner and find ways which work for both of you.
PROBLEMS WITH BOWEL MOVEMENTS
Many women are misdiagnosed with IBS or another chronic digestive issue as symptoms of endometriosis sometimes resemble IBS, and to confuse matters further, some women have been known to suffer from both conditions simultaneously.
Diarrhoea, constipation, and painful urination are symptoms of endometriosis since it can affect areas in the digestive and urinary tract. When endometriomas react similarly to endometrial tissue, the blood in the organs responsible for your bowel movements becomes trapped. Doctors may recommend birth control methods, which are commonly used to ease the symptoms of endometriosis, to address bowel and bladder problems associated with the disease. However, birth control doesn’t stop the spreading of the disease – it simply may help with the associated symptoms.
Lifestyle changes may be recommended, too. This includes striving for a better, low inflammation diet including plenty of tomatoes, olive oil, almonds, fatty fish and green, leafy vegetables, as well as taking regular exercise. Meditation, yoga, and other stress reduction techniques can also improve the digestive system while immune support for vaginal health may help with infections.
If you have endometriosis, you may develop intolerances to some types of food such as eggs, soy, dairy, or stuff which is high in gluten. This is because when the disease is attacking the body, it can cause inflammation. In such cases, estrogen levels can also be high and some foods can affect hormone levels. The body is trying to fight off the constant influx of inflammation which compromises the normal function of the immune system, causing complications.
Following a healthy diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, and food with high omega-3 fats is advised to fully equip your body against endometriosis. The fibre in veggies and fruits lowers estrogen levels while omega-3 fats reduce inflammation; result! On the other hand, red meat may be linked to more severe symptoms of endometriosis because it could increase estrogen levels in the blood, so try to cut down or avoid it entirely. If you have a range of restrictions, you can find recipes for those with food intolerances here.
No one knows what specifically causes endometriosis, and having it can make you feel helpless. However, no disease is stronger than a woman equipped with the right tools, knowledge, resources, and support system. Learning about the condition, its symptoms, and how to manage them are your weapons here. Join a support group, talk to a specialist, and remember, above all else, you’re a warrior.