First Signs of Endometriosis:
Look Out For Early Symptoms
According to the Office on Women's Health, more than 11% of women in the United States suffer from endometriosis. While incredibly painful and unpleasant, endometriosis is, unfortunately, more common than we think.
If you've been experiencing more painful periods than you typically do, there are a few first signs of endometriosis you should look out for. Some of the symptoms of this medical condition can be confused with other reproductive issues. It's important to always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you believe you might have endometriosis.
This guide will discuss endometriosis and how to best identify it in the early stages.
What Is Endometriosis?
The inner lining of the uterus is also called the endometrium. This lining changes throughout a woman's menstrual cycle and sheds while she's on her period.
Endometriosis is when endometrial tissue abnormally implants in other locations besides the inside of the uterus. Even when this tissue implants outside of the uterus, it still responds to the female body's natural hormonal fluctuations. As a result, the endometrial lining thickens, secretes hormones, and sloughs off, even when it's abnormally implanted.
Abnormal locations of endometrium implants are typically in the pelvic region, including:
- Fallopian tubes
- Soft tissue
There are a few more rare locations where the tissue might implant. This includes surgical scars, the stomach, and even the breasts.
As we mentioned, the abnormally implanted tissue sheds during the menstrual cycle but since it's not in the uterus, it has nowhere to go. This can lead to a variety of complications, including:
It's not certain what the exact triggers or causes of endometriosis are. There are a few potential explanations as to the medical condition.
One cause might be retrograde mensuration. According to Very Well Health, this condition occurs when the blood from the menstrual cycle flows back into the pelvis instead of out of the vagina.
The endometrial cells that were shed during a woman's cycle stick to her pelvic walls and on her pelvic organ surfaces. Once they're back inside of her body, they'll start to grow. The cells will bleed and thicken over the course of her menstrual cycle from a location that's not inside of her uterus.
Surgical Scar Implantation
Another endometriosis trigger might be surgical scar implantation. After a woman has surgery, like a C-section or a hysterectomy, endometrial cells can attach to the incision.
Induction theory, or the transformation of peritoneal cells, is thought to be another cause of endometriosis. Certain immune factors or hormones promote peritoneal cells transforming into endometrial-like cells. Peritoneal cells are the cells that line your abdomen's inner side.
Immune System Disorder
It's also thought that an immune system disorder might trigger endometriosis. A person's immune system might not recognize or destroy abnormal endometrial-like tissue implantation.
Early Endometriosis Symptoms
According to Women's Health Concern, between 5-10% of women experience severe pain during their menstrual cycles. While cramping is a common PMS side effect, how can a woman know if what she's experiencing is part of her normal cycle or something else?
The early symptoms and signs of endometriosis aren't that easy to identify. The severity of a woman's symptoms can vary depending upon how severe her condition is and where it's located.
The main early endometriosis symptoms include :
- Debilitating and severe abdominal cramps
- Long periods
- Pelvic pain that's often worse during the menstrual cycle
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Heavy flow
- Cramping or pain after or during sexual intercourse
- Urinary or bowel disorders
- Painful urination or bowel movements during menstruation
- Chronic fatigue
Endometriosis symptoms can show up later in adulthood or even begin in a woman's early adolescence. A woman might experience all the symptoms at once or they could occur cyclically.
Her cyclical symptoms would arrive around her menstrual cycle, leaving once it's done.
For more information read Top 12 Endometriosis Questions Answered.
How Does Endometriosis Get Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, endometriosis is a progressive condition that might get worse over time. With infertility being a common complication, it's important to address your symptoms as soon as they start to arise. Infertility can be avoided with early treatments.
Most people that suffer from symptoms of endometriosis are treated based on the side effects they experience. They often don't receive a formal diagnosis. If you want to learn "how does endometriosis get diagnosed," you'll have to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
During your initial examination, your healthcare provider will ask questions about your menstrual and medical history. They'll also perform a physical exam.
If they believe that you're suffering from endometriosis, they might perform a:
- Pelvic ultrasound
- Pelvic exam
A pelvic ultrasound gives your healthcare provider additional insight as to whether there's endometrial tissue located outside of your uterus. A pelvic ultrasound can show large clumps of tissues that might pinpoint that you're suffering from endometriosis.
Unfortunately, endometriosis can also include smaller pieces of tissue that won't show up on an ultrasound. A pelvic ultrasound can show some types of tissue but not all of them.
For example, an ultrasound can show:
- Endometrial tissue that's deeply embedded in an organ
- Endometrial tissue that's beginning to turn into endometriomas, or cysts
A pelvic ultrasound won't show tissue that's small or on an organ's surface.
During a pelvic exam, your healthcare provider will gently apply pressure and move your womb to the areas where you're experiencing pain. They'll also feel for hard lumps or nodules in your body's pelvic connective tissue.
Your doctor might also insert a speculum into your vagina during a pelvic exam. This enables them to have a better look inside of your vagina to see if endometrial tissues are present.
With both the pelvic ultrasound and exam, there's no way for your doctor to tell if the tissue or cysts they see are endometrial tissue. A laparoscopy is the only way to give your healthcare provider 100% certainty.
A laparoscopy is a common procedure to both diagnose and remove mild endometriosis. It doesn't require a large incision in your abdomen.
The surgeon will make a small incision in your belly button and insert a lighting tool through that cut. They might also make one or two additional incisions for inserting other instruments.
During a laparoscopy, your doctor can view your internal organs to look for evidence of endometriosis or other problems. They can also remove any visible scar tissue or endometriosis implants that might be causing you infertility or pain.
What to Do Before Your First Appointment
It's important to be prepared with questions and other information before your first appointment to discuss your endometriosis symptoms. You want to make the most of the time you have with your doctor.
Some things you can do to prepare for your appointment include:
- Make a list of any supplements, herbs, or medications you take
- Write down all of the symptoms you experience, including frequency and duration
- Have a close friend or family member come with you
- Write down anything your doctor says during your appointment
- Note down what questions you want to ask
You want to understand everything they tell you. Don't hesitate to ask them for clarification on certain points you don't understand.
Learn More About the First Signs of Endometriosis
It's important to know the first signs of endometriosis so you can treat your symptoms as quickly as possible. You don't have to live a life filled with pain and unpleasant menstrual cycles. Reach out to your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms.