Endometriosis occurs when endometrial-like tissue grows and thickens in areas outside the uterus, such as the ovaries and pelvis. This condition affects an estimated 11 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S. Endometriosis can cause considerable discomfort and lead to complications in some cases, such as infertility. Getting an early diagnosis can help reduce these risks, so it’s important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of this condition and seek care.
Onset of Endometriosis
Endometriosis typically occurs during adolescence after girls begin menstruating. However, symptoms might not show up until later on. This condition doesn’t necessarily start off with mild symptoms that gradually get worse. In fact, some girls and women can have a mild case that causes severe symptoms, while others find out that they have more advanced or serious cases with few or no symptoms.
Doctors classify endometriosis based on certain factors, such as where tissue growth occurs and how much of it there is. Endometriosis diagnoses can range from stage 1 (minimal) to stage 4 (severe), which helps determine treatment options. Keep in mind that the first signs of endometriosis at any stage can vary widely, but might include any of the following types of symptoms.
Pelvic pain is among the more common types of early symptoms that endometriosis causes. This discomfort can occur as endometrial-like tissue grows and thickens in the pelvis. Pelvic pain might become worse than usual before and during menstrual periods or only occur during periods. This type of discomfort can also occur during or after intercourse. Pain from endometriosis can also occur in the abdomen and lower back.
Endometriosis sometimes begins to show up through changes that occur during menstruation. Some girls and women might begin having severe cramping during their period or a heavier flow than usual. In some cases, endometriosis can also cause periods to last longer or cause bleeding that occurs between periods. Early symptoms might also include painful urination during periods.
Endometriosis can cause problems with the digestive system, resulting in mild to severe gastrointestinal symptoms. These can include nausea with or without vomiting that might occur at any time or only during periods. Some girls and women might experience painful bowel movements, constipation, bloating or diarrhea, especially during periods.
Certain risk factors can increase the chance of having endometriosis, which is important to keep in mind for those experiencing possible early symptoms. Some of these risk factors include starting menstruation at an earlier age, having shorter menstrual cycles, having heavy periods that last longer than one week, and having family members with endometriosis.
If you have been experiencing pelvic pain or any other symptoms of endometriosis, especially if you have risk factors for this condition, you should see your doctor. This helps ensure that you get an early diagnosis and can begin looking into treatment options to manage your symptoms.
For more information, please visit our complete Endometriosis Guide.