I have painful periods: Could it be endometriosis?

A woman suffering from abdominal pain due to endometriosis, Female GP Toowoomba

If you are someone who doesn’t look forward to “that time of the month”, then you’re not alone. Period pain can be frustrating and endometriosis, which is a more severe form of period pain – affects one in nine women in Australia and millions around the world. 

During periods, most women suffer from symptoms like cramps and mood swings. However, women with endometriosis struggle with excruciating pain accompanied by cramps and a myriad of other symptoms. 

While period pain and endometriosis have similar symptoms resulting in a similar impact on your body, they’re distinct from each other and need different approaches for diagnosis and treatment.  

It is also important to remember that endometriosis can’t be cured but can be well managed. The only way to reduce the symptoms and manage potential complications is through medical and surgical interventions. 

How is endometriosis different from period pain? 

You might raise questions like; I face a painful period, could it be endometriosis? The answer is “yes”, but unlike period pain due to Premenstrual Symptom (PMS), pain caused due to endometriosis is not caused by contractions in the uterus. 

Instead, it is a medical condition where the cells from the uterus are implanted outside the uterus, and sometimes it implants in the pelvic cavity or in the bladder. This implantation causes inflammation in women that in turn causes the pain. 

What are the symptoms of endometriosis? 

The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, but here are other signs that women often experience associated with endometriosis including: 

  • Chronic pelvic pain that is more than “bad cramps” and even over the counter medicines won’t suffice. 
  • Diarrhoea and difficulty passing urine as endometrial cells can grow in the areas between the vagina and the bowel
  • Infertility – getting pregnant could be more difficult than usual for women with endometriosis
  • Endometriomas or Ovarian Cysts that can become larger and painful requiring removal through a surgery    
  • Experiencing pain during and/or after sexual intercourse
  • Feeling tired and lethargic even when not doing anything 
  • Back pain that is deeper and within the body 
  • Painful bowel movements 
  • Nausea

Endometriosis and mental health 

A menopausal woman suffering from anxiety due to endometriosis with a antenatal doctor, Female GP Toowoomba

Living with endometriosis can affect your mental health. Since a correct diagnosis of endometriosis can take up to 10 years because the symptoms can vary from person to person, women can often experience frustration, fear and anxiety due to undiagnosed pain. 

Research suggests that there is an underlining association between endometriosis and psychological disease. Endometriosis is related to a wide range of psychiatric symptoms, especially depression and anxiety in younger women. 

Mental health concerns such as anxiety or anxiety disorder occur when an individual’s normal feelings grow, develops and worsen to a point where their normal day-to-day life is negatively impacted. And since endometriosis is associated with excruciating pain, it can lead to impaired mental health and decreased quality of life. 

Additionally, women who are recently diagnosed with this condition can still face similar mental health concerns. However, these notions are generalised, and the endometriosis-mental health association can greatly vary from person to person. 

Diagnosing and treating endometriosis 

If you’re facing trouble with painful periods, you will need to see a doctor to find out if its endometriosis. Take a note of your symptoms and discuss your concerns with them. 

Since endometriosis can be tricky, you will need to describe the details of your symptoms, especially about pain, their occurrence while in a period or in other times. 

Your GP may refer to an endometriosis specialist like a gynaecologist for further tests such as pelvic test, ultrasound or an MRI.

When do you need to speak to your doctor about period pain?

A female GP discussing treatment for endometriosis patient, Female GP Toowoomba

You need to your doctor if you suffer from: 

  • Extreme and regular pelvic pain during or after sexual intercourse 
  • Sudden pain that worsens during a particular time of the day or night 
  • Period pain that doesn’t respond well to painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines 
  • Changes in your menstruation cycles
  • Someone who experiences pain regularly and has someone in their family with diagnosed endometriosis. 
  • Heavy bleeding accompanied by pelvic pain