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Do You Suffer From Debilitating Period Pain?

You could have endometriosis.

Photo credit: Getty Images/artpipi

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Dr. Tamer Seckin is an advanced gynecologic surgeon specializing in the treatment of endometriosis, fibroids and complex pelvic pain disorders. He is also the co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America. 

When I was studying medicine in the late 1980s, almost all women who complained of pelvic pain were given a general diagnosis of some kind of infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease. Something told me this was very wrong. As I gained more experience as a surgeon, I felt comfortable exploring the issue on my own, and what I discovered shocked me. Many of these patients had lesions that didn’t indicate an infection at all—rather it was endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, causing pain.

From then on, I made it my mission to help women get a proper diagnosis and treatment—and I’ve spent the past 25 years dedicated exclusively to endometriosis. While progress has been made, endometriosis is still grossly misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Considering the fact that it affects as many as 15 percent of all women, it’s crucial to shed light on this disease.

 Here are 5 things you probably don’t know about endometriosis:

1. Many people (including some doctors) are uninformed about endometriosis.

Despite the staggering statistics, many people don’t know about endometriosis. Why? From a social standpoint, menstruation is often considered taboo. For this reason, women often don’t talk about it. In addition, the medical community doesn’t give endometriosis the attention it deserves, so many doctors have little to no knowledge of or training in it. Thus, when a woman complains of pelvic pain, doctors often misdiagnose her and/or simply prescribe pain medication.

2. It’s important to recognize the symptoms.

Because many doctors don’t know a lot about endometriosis, it’s crucial to be on the lookout for warning signs in your own body. One of the main symptoms is prolonged bleeding with periods, along with significant cramps that last beyond two days and are not alleviated with over-the-counter pain medication. In addition, your odds of having endometriosis are even higher if you also experience gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal discomfort, intestinal cramps, gas, bloating, constipation, or painful bowel movements; these are all very frequent signs of endometriosis, especially if these symptoms overlap and flare up during your period. Unfortunately, women with these complaints are commonly misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—but endometriosis should be considered if painful periods are also present. A third symptom may be infertility. Many women who have difficulty getting pregnant don’t know they have endometriosis. In these cases, they go to fertility clinics for help and are unsuccessful, not realizing what they actually need to do to get pregnant is treat their endometriosis.
 

3. It’s key to get help soon.

If you suspect that you might have endometriosis, it’s important to be proactive and see a specialist right away because symptoms worsen over time if left untreated. For example, instead of just having a painful period for a few days of the month, you may start experiencing weeks of painful ovulation, painful intimacy, infertility, and other systemic challenges. In about 75 percent of cases, endometriosis starts during the adolescent years, with the very first period. Many times, patients come to me very late in the game, sometimes 10 years after their first period, and the disease has advanced. Early detection and treatment could stop the progression of endometriosis and help so many women avoid unnecessary pain and complications, and improve their quality of life.

4. Endometriosis is highly treatable—with the right doctor.

If you are diagnosed with endometriosis, stay calm and know that there is help out there. Going on birth control might be enough to make your period lighter and shorter, which may ease your symptoms. If this doesn’t work, surgery may be necessary. Different doctors use various surgical techniques, but to me, excision of the excess tissue through surgery is the gold standard. The purpose of this surgery is to thoroughly remove all of the lesions (the sources of pain) at once in order to avoid the need for repeat surgeries.

Research your doctor carefully, and read up about endometriosis so that you can ask questions and be involved in the diagnosis and treatment process. It’s important to choose a doctor who is not only highly skilled at treating this disease, but who will also be compassionate and listen to your complaints very carefully. It’s also important that the doctor has access to a multidisciplinary team of specialists, such as gastroenterologists and urologists, since endometriosis can affect many organs in the body and requires a collaborative approach to treatment. 

5. We can all help raise awareness.

Some celebritiessuch as Padma Lakshmi, Lena Dunham and Julianne Houghhave decided to share their stories of having endometriosis.  I think it’s very selfless of them to use their platform to speak about such an important issue and to help others who are struggling. But we still need more awareness. And we can start by educating ourselves about endometriosis and looking out for the signsnot just in ourselves but also in our daughters, nieces, sisters and friends. Together we can help so many women combat this treatable disease. 

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Published March 27th, 2018

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