March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month, so let’s talk about endometriosis. The simplest way to sum up endometriosis is to say that it is a PAIN — literally and figuratively – for anyone who experiences it. If you have endometriosis, you are not alone. Approximately 6 to 10% of women of reproductive age have endometriosis in the US. That’s about 5 million women! What are your risk factors for endometriosis?
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue like the lining inside the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing inflammation and often scar tissue. It affects 10% of women of reproductive age—meaning approximately 176 million women worldwide.
Symptoms can include painful menstruation, heavy bleeding, painful ovulation, pain during or after sexual intercourse, chronic pelvic pain, and fatigue. It can also cause infertility in about 50% of women.
Are You at Increased Risk for Endometriosis?
Endometriosis can make your life miserable, from the impacts of your monthly menstrual cycle to the constant pain and exhaustion. While it is most common in women in their 30’s and 40’s, endometriosis can occur in any woman who has begun menstruating. Take this short quiz to assess your risk factors.
- Did your mother or sister have endometriosis?
- Did you start your period before age 11?
- Is your menstrual cycle less than 27 days?
- Are your periods heavy and last longer than seven days?
- Do you have severe cramps during menstruation?
- Do you exercise less than 4 hours a week?
- Have you never been pregnant?
- Have you been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 months (if you are under 35) or six months (if you are 35+)?
- Do you spot in between your periods?*
- Have you ever had a milky nipple discharge unrelated to breast-feeding (galactorrhea)?*
*The last two symptoms (spotting and breast discharge) could also be signs of more severe problems that you and your doctor should discuss immediately.
All the questions in this quiz highlight the common risk factors for endometriosis. The more “yes” answers you have, the higher your risk of endometriosis. If you answered many of these as “yes” and feel uncomfortable with that count, please reach out to your doctor, and seek professional medical advice.
What Can You Do About Your Risk Factors?
Endometriosis is a medical condition that requires medical treatment. You did not cause your endometriosis, and you will not be able to cure it by altering the things you do. However, there are some lifestyle changes that you can make to improve how you feel and to increase the chances that you will be able to get pregnant.
6 Actions You Can Take to Improve Endometriosis
1. Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for endometriosis. You don’t have to engage in hard-core, intensive workouts to gain the benefits, either. Increased activity lessens menstrual flow, thus may prevent the progression of the disease. Exercise also increases endorphins in your bloodstream, which can help with pain relief and improve your sense of well-being.
2. Try meditation, mindfulness practices, or yoga.
These meditative, gentle practices can also increase endorphin levels, lessen pain, and improve moods.
3. Avoid environmental toxins.
Avoid environmental toxins with estrogenic effects such as pesticides, herbicides, and PBA. We still don’t know the full extent of environmental estrogens. Still, there is strong evidence to suggest that they worsen endometriosis.
4. Consider starting your family sooner.
If you know you want children, talk with your partner (if you have one) and your doctor about a plan to start your family sooner rather than later. We know life doesn’t always work out this way, but it’s worth considering if you are dearly hoping to get pregnant and bear children to create your family.
5. Seek fertility treatment sooner.
It is a good idea to try on your own to get pregnant for several months with timed intercourse. Remember, though, that your endometriosis may impact your chances of getting pregnant. You should not wait the typically recommended one full year if you are younger than 35 (or six months if you are 35+) to consult an infertility doctor.
6. Educate yourself.
We believe that knowledge is power. Educating yourself about your endometriosis can be an empowering tool for improving your experience with the disease. The CreatingaFamily.org podcast, Latest Developments in the Treatment of Endometriosis is an excellent starting point. You might also appreciate the resources from the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
Take Care of Yourself
The symptoms of endometriosis can be exhausting. Even when you know that the onset of your period brings uncomfortable days, you are often still unprepared for just how painful it is. When your cycle is over, it can take days to recover. It can be a challenging way to live.
You cannot bear this “vicious cycle” alone. Make sure you have a support network to help you cope and recover. Engage in nourishing self-care that allows your heart, mind, and body to heal on your good days. Plan events that you love for your healthy times of the month. And just as importantly, plan to pamper and nourish yourself well during the challenging days of your period or pain cycles. You will benefit from bringing your closest friends and family into your plans to remind you that you are not alone.
Quiz originally published in 2017; Lifestyle Changes originally published in 2016; Updated and republished in 2022
Image Credits: Jonah Lepcha; Marco Verch Professional Photographer; Pushkr