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5 Things to Know About Endometriosis

Introduction

More than five million American women have endometriosis. It’s most common in women in their 30s and 40s, but any woman who has monthly periods can have it. Endometriosis often causes pelvic pain and cramps, especially during your period. The pain can range from mild to severe. Here are eight things to know about this common condition.

1. Endometriosis Can Occur in Many Areas

Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus grows in areas outside the uterus. It’s most common for the tissue to spread to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, outside surface of the uterus, and the pelvic cavity lining. It can also affect the bladder, bowel, cervix, rectum, vagina and vulva. In rare cases, endometriosis can spread to the brain, lungs or skin.

2. Symptoms Are Known to Vary

Although the most common symptom is painful menstrual cramps, endometriosis can also cause painful sex and pain in the back and intestines. However, some women have no symptoms. Endometriosis can also make it harder to get pregnant. Other symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Painful bowel movements or urination

3. Certain Women May Have a Higher Risk

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes endometriosis. But they do know some women may have a higher risk. You may be at higher risk if you have:

  • A close family member who has endometriosis
  • A condition that prevents menstrual blood from flowing properly, such as structural abnormalities or scar tissue
  • Had an infection in the pelvis
  • Menstrual cycles that are less than 27 days
  • Never had children
  • Periods that last longer than seven days

4. Estrogen Levels May Affect Your Risk

Since doctors still don’t know exactly what causes endometriosis, there is no surefire way to reduce your risk. But they do know the hormone estrogen plays a role in making the uterine lining thicker. You may be able to reduce your risk by keeping your estrogen levels low. You can do this by getting regular exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and keeping your body fat low.

5. There’s Only One Way to Diagnose Endometriosis

If your doctor suspects you have endometriosis, he or she may do a pelvic exam or pelvic ultrasound to look for signs of this condition. But the only way to find out for certain is to undergo a laparoscopy. This is a surgical procedure to look inside your abdomen. To do this, your doctor will make a small cut in your skin and use thin tubes and a small camera to look for growths.

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