What It's Really Like Living With Endometriosis

woman in pain on bed

Getting your period every month is no walk in the park, but it's something that many of us can manage without major disruptions to our daily lives. Sure, we might need to pop a few Advil when the cramps get bad, or spend some quality time with our heating pad. Our emotions may run a little high around our period, and the junk food situation always gets a little worrisome. But as annoying as it can be, it is manageable. We can still do what we need to do, even if we do it with a few more complaints. However, if you live with endometriosis, then your period is more than just a minor convenience. The condition can make period pain so severe that even getting out of bed can feel impossible. Here's what you should know about endometriosis, and how to cope.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition that affects the lining of your uterus, called the endometrium. When you have the condition, the endometrium grows outside of your uterus and can attach to other parts of your body. It can cause pain and discomfort all the time, but the pain is especially severe during menstruation. Endometriosis affects approximately 1 out of 10 women during their reproductive years.

What are the symptoms?

Menstrual cramps can be painful, but are usually manageable with over-the-counter medication or other home remedies, like heating pads. Pain from endometriosis is menstrual cramps on steroids. It's the kind of pain that can stop you dead in your tracks, and many women find it difficult to perform even the simplest of tasks during an episode.

Other symptoms of endometriosis include extremely long or heavy periods, migraines or severe lower back pain during your period, bleeding between periods, fatigue, and nausea. Some women also experience painful bowel movements or worsening allergies during their period.

What does the pain from endometriosis feel like?

Keep in mind, every woman will experience endometriosis pain differently. But it can be helpful to know if the pain you feel may be related to the condition. You may experience pelvic or belly pain that starts before your period and lasts several days, and feels like a sharp, stabbing pain in your abdomen. Backaches are common, and the pain that starts in your belly can radiate to your lower back. The nerves that connect your groin, legs, and hips can be affected by endometriosis, causing leg pain that makes it hard to walk.

Pain during or after sex is also common with endometriosis, and women describe it as a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache in the pelvic area. The overgrowth of endometrial tissue can affect your bowels, causing painful bowel movements. It may hurt to go to the bathroom, or you may experience bleeding and/or constipation.

Living with endometriosis.

Endometriosis is chronic condition, and often gets worse over time. Because of the debilitating pain caused by the condition, it can greatly affect your quality of life, and even make getting pregnancy difficult. There are treatments available, but there is no cure. Many women benefit from hormonal therapy to treat their endometriosis, like hormonal birth control or progestin therapy. Conservative surgery can also be done, and is typically the course of treatment if you're trying to get pregnant.

Your doctor will remove the endometrial tissue, preserving your uterus and ovaries for conception. It can help in the short-term, but there is the chance that the tissue will regrow and the endometriosis will return. There are also more radical surgical options, such as a hysterectomy with or without the removal of the ovaries. However, if you're in your childbearing years, it can be hard to find a doctor willing to take such a drastic approach.

Aside from common treatments, there are things you can do in your day-to-day life to help manage the symptoms from endometriosis. Studies show a link between endometriosis and diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in red meat (the high fat content of red meat may cause your body to produce prostaglandins, which can increase estrogen production).

Adding more fruits and veggies to your diet, in addition to healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon and walnuts, can help. Caffeine and alcohol are also associated with a higher risk of developing endometriosis, so limit your intake of both.

Exercise is a another key aspect of managing your endometriosis. Women who exercise regularly may produce less estrogen and have lighter periods, which can improve your symptoms over time. Exercise can also help manage your stress, which is also important to managing your endometriosis. Experts believe that stress can exacerbate endometriosis symptoms, and exercise causes your brain to release stress-fighting chemicals called endorphins.

Endorphins can actually help lessen your pain, so it's a one-two punch! Eating right, exercising, and managing your stress can help you manage your endometriosis on a daily basis.

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