One out of 10 women of childbearing age have a condition that can cause pain before, during and after menstruation that’s so severe, sometimes over-the-counter pain-relieving medication doesn’t even work.

The debilitating pain can affect their ability to work or get through a school day.

What is endometriosis?

During a normal menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus, also called the endometrium, sheds during a woman’s period.

Endometriosis occurs when the lining leaves the uterus and implants in areas outside the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity. Estrogen can cause the implanted lining to grow.

Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological conditions and affects women equally across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Endometriosis can begin as early as a girl’s first period. Many girls experience symptoms during adolescence but aren’t diagnosed until their 20s or 30s because their painful periods are dismissed as normal.

"Many aspects of endometriosis are misunderstood," said Grace Keeney-Bonthrone, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Endeavor Health. "While it’s known that women have a higher risk of developing endometriosis if their mother or sisters are affected, a specific cause has not yet been identified."

Many women are not familiar with the disease and its symptoms, which can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Some women are unaware of their endometriosis until they have trouble getting pregnant.

Treatment

Endometriosis is an incurable disease, but it is treatable.

Mild cases of endometriosis can be treated with hormone therapy and other medications, including the birth control pill. More severe cases may require surgery. In many cases, infertility can be successfully treated with fertility drugs, insemination or in vitro fertilization.

Most endometriosis grows in areas other than the reproductive organs. Removing the uterus along with the remaining disease may relieve some symptoms, but it won’t cure it. Many women will still experience pain after a hysterectomy.

Symptoms

How can you tell if you have endometriosis? One common symptom of the disease is pelvic pain, usually around menstruation, but some women experience symptoms throughout their entire cycle. Other symptoms vary depending on where the endometriosis lesions are growing, and may include:

  • Long periods (longer than 7 days)
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Bowel and urinary issues
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Painful ovulation
  • Pain during or after sexual intercourse
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility

Endometriosis can impact all aspects of life and well-being. Severe period pain is not normal. You know your body. If you have chronic pain that interferes with your day-to-day life, talk with your doctor. If left untreated, the disease can progress and become more difficult to treat later.