Endometriosis: Separating truths from misconceptions


In this article:

  • Endometriosis is not a one-size-fits-all condition — there are some women who suffer great pain, and others who don’t have any symptoms at all.

  • In addition to chronic pelvic pain, endometriosis can lead to depression, anxiety and infertility.

  • If you believe you might suffer from endometriosis, it’s best to see a gynecologist who can help you find the best treatment.

Endometriosis: Separating truths from misconceptions

Endometriosis is certainly not a rare condition — in fact, endometriosis affects about 10% of females of reproductive age worldwide. Yet there are plenty of myths that give people mistaken ideas about this serious condition. Here, we explore some of those myths, the real facts and how you can find treatment.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It behaves like the tissue in the uterus — thickening, breaking down and bleeding during a woman’s menstrual cycle. But unlike period bleeding, it doesn’t leave the body, and it can form cysts, called endometriomas, on the ovaries.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The most common symptom of endometriosis is painful periods. But some women with endometriosis also experience:

  • Pain during or after sex
  • Heavy menstrual periods or bleeding between periods
  • Infertility
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination

When doctors suspect endometriosis, they typically perform a pelvic examination and one or more of the following tests:

  • Ultrasound — This test can find cysts on the ovaries.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — Your doctor may use this test to help plan surgery by giving detailed information about the tissue growth.
  • Laparoscopy — This allows a surgeon to check inside your abdomen for signs of endometrial tissue and is the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis.

Common misconceptions about endometriosis

There are many untruths circulating about endometriosis. Here, Theresa Franks, M.D., a gynecologist at St. Jude Heritage Fullerton – Sunny Crest OB/GYN, gives the straight facts.

Myth 1: Endometriosis is always painful.

“Some women have been living with it for their entire lives,” says Dr. Franks. “They have learned how to cope with and manage any symptoms, so they don’t even notice it. We may not even need to treat the endometriosis — it depends on whether it’s impacting the patient’s quality of life.”

In these cases, endometriosis may be diagnosed only if a doctor happens to notice abnormal tissue during another procedure.

Myth 2: Endometriosis only occurs in older women, and is not a problem for young women and teenagers.

Actually, endometriosis can affect any female who is of reproductive age, including teenagers. “A young woman is more likely to have a problem if she has a female relative who also suffered from endometriosis,” says Dr. Franks.

Myth 3: Menstrual periods are supposed to hurt, so if a woman has pain during her period, it’s just something she has to endure.

It’s true that women can experience cramps with their periods, Dr. Franks says, but they usually can treat that pain with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen.

“If those types of medications aren’t helping, it could be something more,” she says.

The truths of living with endometriosis

Endometriosis is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Some women may suffer constant pain, while others barely even notice there’s a problem.

Impact on quality of life

For those who experience symptoms with their endometriosis, it can significantly impact their quality of life. Symptoms can include pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue and infertility.

“Patients can miss work because of the pain associated with endometriosis,” says Dr. Franks. “It can affect their sexual function.”

Available treatment options

With her patients, Dr. Franks starts with acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen. If those don’t work, she may prescribe narcotics. Another option is to prevent a woman from getting her period by using either birth control pills or a progesterone treatment, such as an intrauterine device, or IUD.

The ultimate treatment is removal of the ovaries or a hysterectomy, which is removal of the uterus.

“It all depends on how the endometriosis is affecting a patient’s quality of life, and what a woman’s goals are,” Dr. Franks says. “If she still wants to have children and is experiencing infertility, we will simply treat the pain and refer her to a reproductive endocrinologist.”

When to consult a doctor

It’s best to call your doctor or other provider if over-the-counter medications don’t give you enough relief, and if your pain affects your quality of life. You don’t have to live with the pain — there are steps a doctor can take to help you.

Why open discussion matters

Dr. Franks says it’s important for primary care doctors and other providers to listen to their patients when they complain of pelvic pain. “Sometimes, medications aren’t the answer,” she says. “They need to see an obstetrician and gynecologist, who can give them many different options for relieving their pain.”

Learn more about women’s health with Providence

At Providence, we are committed to helping you find solutions. Our women’s health experts offer compassionate care that can help you achieve a good quality of life.

If you think you might suffer from endometriosis, give us a call. We’ll offer a listening ear and solutions to fit your lifestyle.

Contributing caregiver

Theresa Franks, M.D., is a gynecologist at St. Jude Heritage Fullerton – Sunny Crest OB/GYN.

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Related resources

When pain is more than just a ‘bad period’

Does having a hysterectomy make you age faster?

Pelvic floor therapy

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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