If everything ran smoothly with regards to your period, you would have a normal menstrual cycle, experience usual PMS, and bleed for 7 days – spotting on the first day, heavy on the 2nd-4th days, teetering off on the 5th-7th days. Cramps would be bearable (with enough pain killers) and that would be that!
However, all women’s bodies are different, and most of us suffer, one way or another, in different ways when it comes to our periods. Some of us have medical conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and some have endometriosis. Endometriosis is an extremely painful condition to have, especially during your period, and this article covers this condition with relation to your period.
Do I Have Endometriosis?
This is a good question to ask! Here are the symptoms of endometriosis:
- Abdominal fulness or cramping
- Pain during sex
- Pain during defecation
- Pain in the lower abdomen, rectum, vagina, lower back and/or pelvis
- Constipation and/or nausea
- Abnormal menstruation, spotting, heavy menstruation, painful menstruation, irregular menstruation
- Infertility (unfortunately for some)
What Exactly Is Endometriosis?
Doctors refer to the term endometriosis when tissue similar to the inner lining of the uterus, which is referred to as the endometrium, is located outside its usual spot. This may cause inflammation, as the tissue outside of the uterus will respond to the monthly fluctuations of the menstrual cycle.
How Many Females Have Endometriosis?
10% of the female population has endometriosis – that’s almost 200 million women across the globe. It is very important for all females who start menstruating to see a gynecologist to check that everything is alright with their uterus, and to check for any signs of endometriosis.
Here are some women who have endometriosis and what they have to say about it:
What Causes Endometriosis and What Cures It?
At the moment, no doctors know exactly what causes endometriosis, and there is unfortunately no cure for it either.
Tests That Doctors Take to Determine Whether or Not You Have Endometriosis
In order to make a proper diagnosis of endometriosis, gynecologists will do the following:
Your gynecologist will give you a pelvic exam, where they will feel areas within your pelvis to check for abnormalities like cysts that may lie on your reproductive organs, or scars behind your uterus. In many instances, it is only possible to actually feel areas of endometriosis when cysts have formed due to it.
MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging
This is an exam your gynecologist will use that uses a magnetic field, as well as radio waves, to create very detailed images of your organs and tissues. MRIs can help with surgical planning as well, as it gives your surgeon very detailed information about the precise location and size of endometrial implants.
Your gynecologist will use a transducer to capture images by pressing it against your abdomen, or inserting it inside your vagina (in this instance it is called a transvaginal ultrasound). This test uses waves sound waves that are high-frequency to capture the images of the inside of your body.
Both the different types of ultrasounds get the best view of what is occurring within the body and the reproductive organs. It doesn’t necessarily indicate whether or not you have endometriosis, but it will pick up cysts that are associated with endometriosis (endometriomas).
In certain instances, you may be referred to a surgeon who will operate on you, so that they can see inside your abdomen – this is called a laparoscopy. Under general anesthetic, your surgeon will make a very small incision near your navel and insert a laparoscope, which is a thin viewing instrument, as this will help them find signs of endometrial tissue that is outside of the uterus.
Laparoscopies provide information about the exact location, extent and size of the endometrial implants. Your surgeon might take a biopsy – a tissue sample – to test further. If surgical planning is done correctly, your surgeon can treat endometriosis completely during the laparoscopy, meaning you will need only one surgery – that is the ideal situation.
Treatment of Endometriosis
Although there is no cure, endometriosis can be treated. The following is the treatment should you have endometriosis:
Endometriosis is a condition associated with pain; therefore, you’re going to need medication to help you with this. Your doctor may tell you to get non-prescription pain pills, like the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs Ibuprofen found in Advil and others, or naproxen sodium (Aleve) which will soothe menstrual cramps.
Provided you’re not trying to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy together with pain medication.
These may include:
- Hormonal Contraceptives
- Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (Gn-RH) Agonists and Antagonists
- Progestin Therapy
- Aromatase Inhibitors
- Conservative Surgery
This is a good option if you are trying to fall pregnant, as the surgery will remove the endometriosis implants while preserving your uterus and ovaries. Surgery also helps with the pain you experience, although the pain may return.
If you have endometriosis, you know that having children isn’t the easiest process. If you want to fall pregnant, your doctor may recommend you see a fertility specialist to put you on fertility treatment. This may mean your ovaries get stimulated in order to make more eggs, or you may need in vitro fertilization.
Hysterectomy with Removal of Ovaries
This is the last option you want to look at. A hysterectomy removes the uterus, and an oophorectomy removes the ovaries. Although this was an operation that was popular in its day to treat endometriosis, doctors are looking at alternate options to this. Obviously, once you have this operation, you cannot fall pregnant.
How Does Endometriosis Affect Menstrual Cycles?
If you have endometriosis, it can affect the length of your menstrual cycle, as well as the length of the bleeding that occurs. Your body has more tissue to shed, therefore in order to accommodate your body, your period may last longer. Your menstrual cycle may shorten, and menstruation may begin at a sooner period than every 28 days.
This graphic video shows you exactly what endometriosis looks like, and how it affects the menstrual cycle:
Can I Use a Menstrual Cup During If I Have Endometriosis?
A menstrual cup collects, rather than absorbs blood, and is a great, clean option to use for your periods if you have endometriosis. It’s important to use a menstrual cup that is not too hard or firm, as that may cause unnecessary pain, and comes in different sizes for you to try out, as a smaller one may fit more comfortably than a large one, should you have endometriosis.
Out of the many options out there, the Venus Cup is great, as it comes in a starter kit, offering you the opportunity to try out both the small and large sizes. The durometer (firmness) of its body and rim is soft and still easily usable. It is easy to fold, and hold, while placing it into the position it needs to be, without putting extra pressure against the urethra while inside. The rim is also just firm enough to lend itself to easy opening. This cup is also a “high capacity” cup, meaning it collects more blood than your average menstrual cup.
Will a Healthy Diet Help Endometriosis?
Of course, eating a diet filled with food that doesn’t cause much inflammation in the body will help not aggravate the symptoms of endometriosis. Food that you should be ingesting should be filled with vitamins and minerals, such as vegetables and fruit, whole grains and legumes.
Food you should limit is any food that causes inflammation within the body. This kind of food includes processed sugar, artificial trans fats, vegetable and seed oil (stick to extra virgin olive oil), refined carbohydrates, too much alcohol, and processed meat. You should also really limit coffee as it narrows blood vessels and can add to menstrual cramps.
Endometriosis is a serious condition that needs medical attention. Experiencing an abnormal menstrual cycle and severe period cramps is part of the package that is endometriosis. If you suffer from any of the symptoms and have not been diagnosed yet, but feel you may have it, please make an appointment to see your gynecologist as soon as possible!