Far too often, it’s considered taboo to discuss any illness that involves women’s reproductive health, and that’s why it’s so important to recognize that March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a chronic condition in which tissue that’s normally only found in the uterus grows in other areas of the body — most commonly the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the tissue lining your pelvis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Endometriosis affects approximately one in 10 women, so it’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of this illness — especially because we are so often told that this type of pain is simply part and parcel of being a woman.
HelloGiggles spoke with experts who told us about seven endometriosis symptoms to look out for.
“Pelvic pain is the most common symptom associated with endometriosis,” Dr. Amy Schutt — a reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston — told us. The pain can be cyclical and often worsens with menstrual periods or activity such as sexual intercourse.
Dr. Jessica Ritch, Minimally Invasive Gynecologist at Florida Center for Urogynecology, said that dymenorrhea (pain with menses) typically starts during the teenage years or early 20s and gets progressively worse as time goes on.
Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful intercourse. “This can be pain with initial insertion, but more often is pain with deeper penetration,” Ritch explained. “It can also continue after sex.”
4Changes with urination or bowel movements
Although these are less common signs of endometriosis, Schutt said some patients experience changes with urination (such as pain and increased frequency) or bowel movements (constipation and diarrhea).
Even if they’ve never had the painful symptoms, Ritch said that some women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant.
Both Schutt and Ritch noted that back pain is a symptom of endometriosis. Ritch explained this is especially common when the uterus is retroverted (tilted backwards).
7Shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough
In rare cases, endometriosis can affect distant organs like the lungs. In these cases, women experience shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing. “This can appear like pneumonia or even cause women to cough blood,” Ritch said.
As with any illness, only a doctor can determine whether or not your symptoms are due to endometriosis. If any of this sounds familiar, make an appointment to be evaluated for the illness.
If endometriosis is the source of your pain, you and your doctor will work together on a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific symptoms.