Somewhere between 2 and 10% of American women aged 25-40 years old have endometriosis. It can cause pain, heavy bleeding during your period, and infertility. It’s possible that you have endometriosis and don’t know.
Dr. Parisa Pourzand and her team are experts in recognizing and diagnosing endometriosis. If you have it, diagnosis is important because treatment can ease your symptoms, which are often bad enough to disrupt your day-to-day life.
What happens when you have endometriosis?
The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium. This tissue builds up over the course of your menstrual cycle, then when you have your period, it sheds and bleeds away.
If you have endometriosis, your endometrium grows outside of your uterus. It still builds up but when it’s time for it to shed, there’s no way for it to bleed away.
Some women who have endometriosis have a somewhat milder form of the condition, where the endometrium is on the outside of the uterus. In other women, the endometrium may grow onto other organs, like the bladder or colon. Where the endometrium grows and how much of it is outside your uterus determines some of your symptoms.
Symptoms of endometriosis
Symptoms vary among women with endometriosis, and sometimes even month-to-month. The most common symptom is painful periods. Most women have some degree of menstrual cramping, but women with endometriosis are more likely to have debilitating cramps and they may worsen over time.
You may also experience pain during or after sex, pain in your abdomen, pain when you have a bowel movement, or pain when you urinate during your period. Sometimes, endometriosis can cause other issues, such as painful bladder syndrome or gastrointestinal symptoms.
Along with pain, endometriosis may cause bleeding or spotting between periods, and it can make it harder for you to become pregnant.
Risk factors for endometriosis
If you have symptoms of endometriosis, and you have risk factors for the condition, there’s a higher likelihood that you have it. For example, starting your period at a young age is a risk factor for endometriosis. Other things that raise your risk include:
- Never having given birth
- Experiencing menopause at an older-than-average age
- Menstrual cycles that last less than 27 days
- Longer, heavier periods
- High levels of estrogen
- Low body mass index
- A family history of endometriosis
- Reproductive tract abnormalities
Getting a diagnosis of endometriosis
So, if you have both risk factors and symptoms, you may feel pretty certain that you have endometriosis. But, the only way to know for sure is for your doctor to make a formal diagnosis. Dr. Pourzand may perform a pelvic exam first, but that isn’t always definitive.
The next step may be an ultrasound, which may be done with a transducer (outside your body) or it may be a transvaginal ultrasound (a device is placed inside your vagina). Again, it’s possible that an ultrasound will not provide definitive results.
Sometimes magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is used to examine your organs and tissues. MRI is often done prior to surgery so that Dr. Pourzand has a better idea of the extent of your condition.
Perhaps the most reliable way to be diagnosed with endometriosis is to have laparoscopy, a type of minimally invasive surgery that involves the use of a tiny camera and light, to see if there is endometrial tissue outside your uterus.
The only way to know for sure that you have endometriosis is for a trained, highly qualified professional like Dr. Pourzand to make a diagnosis. And getting a diagnosis is important because once you know that you absolutely do have the condition, your doctor can work with you to develop a treatment plan.
If you suspect you may have endometriosis, schedule an appointment with Dr. Pourzand. Earlier treatment means less pain and better outcomes.