For a few days before and during your period, you experience cramping. This is a normal symptom of menstruation for many women. But what if those cramps are severe every month, extending several days into your period and radiating throughout your abdomen and lower back? If menstrual pain disrupts your life, you should visit your gynecologist – especially if you’re also experiencing:
- Excessive bleeding or bleeding between periods.
- Pain during or after sex.
- Pain with bowel movements or urination.
- Symptoms like fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and/or nausea.
These signs could point to endometriosis – a condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus. This tissue may grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvic lining. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs to the intestines and other abdominal organs.
Endometriosis can range from mild to severe – and the level of pain is not a good indicator of severity. It is estimated to affect slightly more than 10 percent of women in the United States, aged 15 to 44.
Why Is Endometriosis a Problem?
Beyond painful periods, the most common complication of endometriosis is infertility. In fact, many women aren’t diagnosed until they struggle to get pregnant. Between one-third and one-half of women with endometriosis will struggle with fertility problems.
If you have endometriosis, the tissue growing outside your uterus will break down during your menstrual cycle – just like the uterine lining. But, because this tissue is in other areas of the body, it can’t flow out. This can result in a buildup of scar tissue that may make conception difficult.
Ovarian cancer also occurs at higher-than -expected rates in women with endometriosis, but this risk is still very low.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your gynecologist will ask about symptoms and perform a pelvic exam, though it’s difficult to detect endometriosis this way. Your physician may order an ultrasound, which can detect cysts that sometimes form with this condition, but it cannot definitively diagnosis endometriosis. To confirm endometriosis, a surgeon must look inside your abdomen for abnormal tissue growth using a procedure called laparoscopy. This procedure, performed under general anesthesia, involves inserting a thin viewing instrument through an incision in the abdomen to look for endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
What Increases My Risk?
While the true cause of endometriosis is unknown, some factors seem to increase a woman’s risk of developing it:
- Alcohol consumption
- Family history of endometriosis
- Getting your first period at an early age
- Going through menopause at an older age
- Having short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- High levels of estrogen
- Low body mass index (BMI)
- Medical conditions that block menstrual flow
- Never giving birth
- Uterine abnormalities
How Can Integrative Medicine Help?
Integrative medicine is all about restoring balance to the body and mind.
Treating endometriosis may involve pain medication, hormone therapy and even surgery – but most physicians prefer to try conservative therapies before considering surgery.
Because endometriosis may stem from, or be worsened by, a variety of medical and lifestyle issues – you may benefit from the integrative medicine philosophy of combining conventional Western medicine with complementary treatments (sometimes called alternative or naturopathic treatments) and lifestyle adjustments.
An integrative medicine provider can help you identify hormonal imbalances, lifestyle factors and medical conditions contributing to endometriosis, and you may benefit from hormonal treatments (like birth control pills), acupuncture, and/or over-the-counter or prescription medication, among other therapies.
Holy Redeemer recently welcomed gynecologist Dr. Dinah Gonzalez– a women’s health practitioner who believes in the holistic and personalized care that is the hallmark of integrative medicine – to our healthcare family. Dr. Gonzalez wants to educate and change the way women feel about their health and well-being and empower patients to become active participants in their own healthcare. To make an appointment with Dr. Gonzalez, call 215-544-5695.