Many women deal with a painful period every month. But did it ever occur to you that maybe the pain you are feeling isn’t just normal menstrual cramps? Numerous women suffer from endometriosis, a common reason behind exceptionally painful periods. A conservative estimate suggests that 90 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis. However, most experts believe that the number is much higher. Yet, because the symptoms of the disorder are so similar to a regular menstrual period, the disorder often goes undiagnosed.

What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis, or endo, refers to a condition wherein the uterine lining (the endometrium) is found outside of the uterus, usually in the ovaries, bowel or bladder. The misplaced tissue results in lesions that act in much the same way as the endometrium located in the uterus does.

During your monthly menstrual cycle, this tissue thickens and then sheds as it normally would. Unfortunately, because this blood is unable to leave your body, it causes internal bleeding and inflammation. This leads to pain, scar tissue, bowel problems and possibly infertility.

Causes of Endometriosis
So far, no one has been able to pinpoint the exact reason why endo occurs. Some believe there may be a genetic link while others feel that endometriosis is actually part of a larger immunological disorder or possibly the result of exposure to certain environmental toxins, particularly dioxin.

Regardless of the cause, all experts recognize the fact that endometriosis can happen in any female of any age during her menstrual years. It has also been noted that having excess estrogen in your system can aggravate the condition.

Endometriosis Symptoms
The most common symptoms of endo are abdominal or pelvic pain. Because this pain occurs when you have your period, it is not surprising that so many women fail to realize that their pain is not normal.

Other symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Pain during ovulation
  • Painful bowel movements or urination during your period
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Lower back pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Increased premenstrual symptoms
  • Infertility
Endometriosis can affect your ability to have children. In some cases, a woman only finds out she has endo once she has troubles trying to conceive. Even if you've already had a child, you can still develop endometriosis. However, with proper treatment, it is possible to get pregnant again.

Treating Endometriosis
The only surefire why to properly diagnose endo is through laparoscopy. This is a type of diagnostic surgery whereby your doctor inserts a tiny, lighted tube through a small abdominal incision. Using this tube, your doctor is able to see inside of you and insert any tools she may need. Once your doctor has been able to locate the misplaced endometrium, a course of treatment can be prescribed. While all treatments can help, there is no cure for endometriosis.

There are three main treatment options for endo. The first is surgery, which is the most effective method so long as all the endo has been removed from the offending areas. This is usually done through laparoscopy. Occasionally, a laparotomy may be done, although it is a more invasive surgery. In extreme cases, a hysterectomy may be necessary.

Non-Surgical Solutions
Medications are also sometimes prescribed to treat endometriosis. In some cases, your doctor may just prescribe a pain medication to ease your discomfort. Other times, hormonal drugs are prescribed which aim to regulate the amount of estrogen in your body. However, these are temporary solutions as the hormonal drugs cannot be used for more than six months and the condition often returns once the drugs are stopped. Another hormonal remedy is the birth control pill, which can be used for a longer period of time than other hormonal drugs.

Many women have found that changing their diet has made a big difference in their endometriosis. Specifically, cutting out caffeine, sugar and alcohol seems to help relieve some women’s symptoms. Helpful dietary changes include following a macrobiotic diet and eating lots of fresh, organic vegetables while reducing your intake of processed foods.

While endometriosis can cause you a lot of discomfort and pain, there is help available. If you find that your menstrual pain is growing increasingly worse, is so severe that over-the-counter medications don’t work or you have to miss school or work when you have your period, then make an appointment to discuss the issue with your doctor.

Not all women are suited to hormonal forms of birth control. If any of the following conditions apply to you, you may not be able to use this type of contraceptives:

  • You are, or suspect you are, pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding and/or are less than 6 weeks postpartum
  • Have unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Have active liver disease or a history of liver tumors
  • Are over the age of 35
  • Smoke
  • Have a history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or some other condition that puts them at risk of a heart attack
  • Have a history of blood clotting problems
  • Have diabetes
  • Have breast cancer, history of breast cancer or an abnormal growth in the breast
  • Have cancer or a history of cancer of any reproductive organs
  • Have migraines or focal neurologic symptoms
  • Have a moral objection to hormonal methods of birth control