Endometriosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Women

Endometriosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Women

5 minute read

Symptoms of endometriosis are similar to those of conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), making it easy to misdiagnose. If your menstrual periods often include severe cramps, how can you recognize whether the intensely painful cramps are a symptom of endometriosis? It is important to get an accurate diagnosis for effective treatment. We’ll define endometriosis and discuss its symptoms, causes and risk factors, and treatment options.

Learning About Endometriosis

Without being effectively managed, endometriosis can easily disrupt your everyday life. It can take years to get a diagnosis and treatment despite how common endometriosis can be. There are four stages used to classify endometriosis: minimal, mild, moderate, or severe. The location, amount, depth, and size of endometrial tissue are the criteria used to organize this classification system. The pain you experience may not reflect the stage of endometriosis. Some women are asymptomatic, even in severe stages. If you’re experiencing symptoms that are associated with endometriosis, discuss your concerns with your gynecologist.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that makes up the lining inside your uterus grows outside of the uterine cavity onto other pelvic organs, or in severe cases, to distant sites in your body. This lining might spread to your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue lining your pelvis, though rarely beyond your pelvic organs. Endometriosis is often painful because the tissue growth acts as it normally should during a menstrual period (thickening, breaking down, and bleeding each cycle) but doesn’t have a way to exit your body.

Endometriosis Causes

The primary cause of endometriosis is unclear. This uncertainty sometimes leads to misdiagnosis because common symptoms of endometriosis are also associated with conditions like PID or IBS. Some possible theories include retrograde menstruation, cell transformation, surgery, cell transportation, and immune system disorders. Retrograde menstruation occurs when menstrual blood flows backward through your fallopian tubes to your pelvic cavity, rather than leaving your body as it should. Cell transformation is involved in a couple of theories about the primary cause of endometriosis. The “induction theory” proposes that peritoneal cells transform into endometrial-like cells. Cell transformation may also occur during puberty. In this case, estrogen is responsible for transforming embryonic cells into endometrial-like cells.     

Your genetics and family history are associated with the likelihood of getting endometriosis. Some factors that may increase your risk are: 

  • Never giving birth

  • Getting your period at an early age or going through menopause at an older age

  • Experiencing menstrual cycles that are less than 27 days or heavy periods that last over seven days

  • High levels of estrogen exposure

  • Low BMI

  • Medical conditions that prevent regular menstrual flow

  • Abnormalities of the reproductive tract

How to Know if you Have Endometriosis

The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, often described as much worse than your typical menstrual pain. The problem may increase over time, becoming more disruptive. Other common issues, most frequently occurring during menstruation, include:

  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)

  • Pain during sex

  • Pain while urinating or during a bowel movement

  • Excessive bleeding

  • Infertility

  • Fatigue

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Bloating or nausea

Treatments for Endometriosis

Getting an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis is the first step in treatment. If you’re experiencing symptoms, see your primary care provider and give a detailed explanation of what you’re experiencing. Make sure to include your pain location, timing of the pain, and how long it lasts. Possible diagnostic tests include a pelvic exam, ultrasound, MRI, or laparoscopy. Once endometriosis is diagnosed, treatment usually includes medication or surgery.

OTC pain relievers and hormone therapies, such as hormonal contraceptives or aromatase inhibitors, are common treatments. Hormonal therapy can regulate the growth of endometrial tissue by managing hormonal changes. By using aromatase inhibitors, you can reduce the amount of estrogen in your body, often a major driver of endometriosis symptoms. Pain relievers and hormonal therapy aren’t always effective in treatment. In such cases, surgery might be necessary to remove endometrial tissue. Your primary care provider will often recommend surgery if hormonal therapy doesn’t work. Most  cases may only require  minimally invasive surgery that can be used to diagnose the extent of endometriosis and also treat.  If no other treatment is effective, your primary care provider may recommend a hysterectomy as one final attempt at treatment. A total hysterectomy involves removing the uterus, cervix, and ovaries.

Your primary care provider recommends treatments based on factors such as:

  • Your health and medical history
  • Stage of the disorder and symptoms you’re experiencing

  • Your preferences

  • Whether you want children 

You can ease symptoms of endometriosis at home. Taking a warm bath or using a heating pad can relax pelvic muscles and reduce pain. You can also exercise regularly and meditate or try other relaxation techniques. Use these lifestyle practices and alternative treatments alongside medication or surgery. Homeopathy, allergy management, and immune therapy are some of the alternative treatment options. Before trying any treatments, discuss the plan with your primary care provider. Some combinations of treatments might not work effectively together. 

If you think you have endometriosis or are at risk for the disorder, contact your primary care provider about getting tested.

« Back to Blog