Several conditions can cause discomfort in the lower abdomen, but endometriosis can lead to very intense pain, infertility, and psychological impact. So why is there still so little awareness about this disorder? One reason is the gender pain gap and the long history of doctors dismissing women’s pain.
We’re breaking the silence by discussing possible causes of untreated pain so that women in pain can be empowered to seek treatment. Find out what endometriosis is, learn how to identify signs of endometriosis, and what options exist for endometriosis treatment.
What Is Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain?
Chances are you’ve heard the term before, but what is endometriosis? Endometriosis is a cause of pelvic pain in women which results when a type of tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus starts to grow in parts of the body where it doesn’t belong. The tissue inside the uterus is called endometrium, which is where the name endometriosis comes from.
This condition causes ovarian pain (when the tissue grows on or causes cysts on the ovaries) and uterus pain (when it grows on the outside of the uterus). The tissue may grow on other organs and parts of the body as well. It is important to remember that Endometriosis is a whole body disease.
Some researchers estimate that at least 11% of American women of reproductive age have undiagnosed endometriosis (Louis et al., 2011). This not only causes extremely painful periods (more on this below) but can also lead to a huge negative impact on emotional and psychological well-being and reduced quality of life (Culley et al., 2013; Nnoaham et al, 2011).
The Main Symptoms of Endometriosis
It can be extremely frustrating when doctors downplay women’s health concerns, so it’s important to know and recognize signs of endometriosis so that you can advocate for yourself or other women in pain.
During menstruation, the endometrium-like tissue responds to hormones, which can cause severe pelvic pain in women. This also causes inflammation in the areas where this tissue grows, which can lead to scarring in the pelvis.
Signs of endometriosis include chronic pelvic pain, extremely painful periods, pain during sex or urination, nausea, bloating of the abdomen, fatigue, and even depression or anxiety. It’s important to distinguish between normal period cramps and severe pelvic pain. Normal period pain should not be debilitating or cause you to be unable to carry out your normal activities.
The Proper Diagnosis of Endometriosis
Because the symptoms are so varied, it is often difficult for health professionals to arrive at an endometriosis diagnosis. Without the proper diagnostic tests, this can lead to untreated pain as women continue to have extremely painful periods without knowing why.
If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms mentioned, you should consult a gynecologist and request a pelvic ultrasound. An endometriosis ultrasound can detect irregularities in the uterus and other parts of the reproductive system. In some cases, your doctor may require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect endometriosis.
Although imaging can show signs of endometriosis, it can only be diagnosed– and mostly at a stage 4– for sure through laparoscopy. This procedure involves a camera being inserted into the abdomen to look for endometriosis in the reproductive organs, removing a sample, and examining it under a microscope to confirm.
Although the cause of endometriosis is not known for sure, there are certain risk factors associated with this condition. These include never having given birth, more frequent or longer-lasting periods with heavy flow, high levels of estrogen in the body, structural issues with the reproductive tract that prevent normal menstruation, and a family history of endometriosis
If you’ve gotten an endometriosis diagnosis, you need not despair. Although this condition can be extremely painful, there is a range of endometriosis treatment options that can help.
Available Treatment for Endometriosis, Pelvic, and Uterus Pain
Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for endometriosis. However, there are several effective ways to manage the symptoms and reduce pelvic pain in women.
Medicine for Period Cramps
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage severe pelvic pain in women. However, these may not be feasible for menstruators with certain conditions, including ulcers, asthma, bleeding disorders, and more.
Some doctors may prescribe hormonal birth control to lower estrogen or increase progesterone to try to reduce the abnormal growth of the endometrial-like tissue. An intrauterine device (IUD) may also help reduce pelvic pain.
If pelvic pain cannot be managed using medicine, physical therapy, heating pads, or other means, then surgery may be the only option.
Some women with endometriosis experience such intense pain that they opt for endometriosis surgery to remove the tissue. This involves a laparoscopy or laparotomy during which a surgeon will remove any endometriosis patches. This can provide pain relief, but there is a chance that the tissue will grow back again. For women who suffer from intense pain and are not planning to get pregnant, the last-resort endometriosis surgery option is a hysterectomy, which involves the removal of the uterus.
AIMA Is Here to be Part of the Solution and to Speak Up About Endometriosis and Women in Pain
The gender pain gap makes period pain, uterus pain, and other women’s issues often take a backseat to men in pain. AIMA is determined to reverse this trend by speaking up about endometriosis (and period discomfort in general) to raise awareness and put an end to untreated pain!
We are excited to offer OVY, an innovative CBD-enhanced vaginal suppository that provides effective, localized relief in the reproductive tract. By acting directly on cannabinoid receptors in the uterus, this product offers support for period discomfort and other pelvic pain.
By speaking up about endometriosis and sharing information with women in pain, we can help create a world where every menstruator has access to early endometriosis diagnosis and options for treating pelvic pain for a happier, healthier, more pain-free life.