Menstrual cramps are one of the most common symptoms that women experience in their cycling years and can reduce quality of life, cause lost work days and is a major source of ‘over medication’ with analgesics (especially in teen women).
Endometriosis is a condition that causes menstrual cramps and pelvic pain but can only be formally diagnosed with a laparoscopy surgery with a specialist. Any time a diagnosis is made by surgery, it means that we generally underestimate the number of women who have the condition. If we can use a simple blood test to diagnose something then it’s easy for us to track how many women out of 100 have the condition, but if we have to diagnose women through surgery, we often only diagnose severe cases and mild or moderate cases never get properly assessed.
Endometriosis is a gynecological condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside the uterus. This tissue grows and recedes every month with a woman’s cycle and causes tremendous inflammation and pain. For women in adolescence or with mild disease the pelvic pain women feel can look like typical menstrual cramps and often mean that women are under-diagnosed for endometriosis. These women are typically self-medicating with painkillers and need to increase the number of pills they per month over time as their disease progresses.
The research suggests that we should ‘lower our ‘tolerance’ for considering endometriosis in certain women especially young women. If you have the following experience of your menstrual cramps, it may be worth considering whether or not you have endometriosis.
- If your experience of menstrual cramps is worsening over time, or if you’re noticing that the number of days that you’re experiencing cramps is increasing, we may want to consider endometriosis. Menstrual cramps or pelvic pain should typically only occurr 1-2 days of the cycle and endometriosis should be considered when cramps are happening for more than 2 days, or if pelvic pain is occurring for a good portion of the month (and then worsening during the menstrual cycle).
- If you’re using an increasing number of painkillers month over month then we need to reconsider a diagnosis of endometriosis.
- If our typical conventional approaches for your cramps are not working. For women with endometriosis, the typical treatments for menstrual cramps (the oral contraceptive or painkillers) either stop working, or never worked to control their symptoms.
If you are suspicious that your cramps are more than “just cramps” it may be worth talking to a practitioner is experienced in working with women with endometriosis. Women often live with their menstrual symptoms or use their mother or grandmother’s experience of painful cramps to normalize their own experience. Any pelvic pain during menses should be treated (whether from simple cramps or endometriosis) but women with endometriosis require special consideration and different support than women with regular menstrual cramps. Talk to us to find out if you qualify to have a blood test to confirm endometriosis, or if one of our naturopathic doctors would be a good fit to support your symptoms.