Health

Signs You Have Endometriosis

More than 175 million women suffer from endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that is supposed to grow inside the uterus grows outside of it instead, according to the Mayo Clinic. In recent years, prominent women such as actresses Lena Dunham and Daisy Ridley and BuzzFeed journalist Lara Parker have come out about having the disorder and are raising awareness.

 

A photo posted by Lara (@laraeparker) on

As Dunham notes in a Lenny Letter newsletter piece published last year, she used to think her pain from endometriosis was just really bad menstrual pain. When she saw a doctor to treat a urinary tract infection, however, her pain started to make sense, as she was diagnosed with endometriosis.

Some people, like Dunham, may have endometriosis and not immediately realize it. Here are some subtle signs that you have this condition.

1. Extreme pain during sex.

Lara Parker

The Mayo Clinic warns that pain during and after intercourse can be a sign of endometriosis. Parker shared her experiences with pain during sex in a 2014 Buzzfeed article, sharing some of the challenges she has faced trying to hold relationships when sex is so painful for her. During her first time having sex, she thought it was normal that it felt like her insides were "being ripped apart":

"As I got older, shame and embarrassment kept me from trying to be intimate altogether. I shied away from virtually every guy that showed me attention to avoid the inevitable disappointment on his end. I didn’t want to be alone with a guy in any capacity. But the second time I met someone that I was truly interested in, I tried to ignore the pain. Maybe it’ll work, I told myself. Maybe the problem was just that one guy. I tried to push aside my hesitation and ignore how terrible I felt, but ultimately the pain of penetration was overwhelming. I couldn’t hide my discomfort."

2. Extreme pain during periods.

 

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

Sometimes, it's not just painful menstrual cramps at play. It could be a sign of endometriosis.

"Pelvic pain and cramping may begin before your period and extend several days into your period," the Mayo Clinic states on its website. "You may also have lower back and abdominal pain."

Dunham wrote in her Lenny letter piece that she was initially given birth control when she first went to a gynecologist for her period pains:

"The stomachaches continued, though I never considered them to be linked to my period but rather separate and distinct viruses of indeterminate origin. I was also on a high dose of antidepressants to combat OCD (cool trivia fact: OCD patients often need much larger amounts of medication than depression sufferers might in order to find relief). This dosage made me so tired that I usually lay down in the nurse's office from noon until she woke me up at four to send me home. Whatever the cause of the pain and fatigue, I missed 62 English classes in tenth grade and was crowned the grade's sickest girl."

3. You have diarrhea, constipation, or pain during bowel movements.

Johns Hopkins Medicine warns that diarrhea, constipation, or pain while having a bowel movement could be a sign of endometriosis.

"Endometriosis patients who present with bowel symptoms may experience a long delay in getting a diagnosis or have other medical conditions related to the bowel considered before their physicians consider the possibility of endometriosis," Dr. Ken Sinervo, the medical director of the Center for Endometriosis Care, wrote on the center's website. "Bowel symptoms are extremely common in patients with endometriosis."

It's important to keep in mind, however, that diarrhea, constipation, and pain during bowel movements could also be symptoms of gastrointestinal issues.

4. Infertility.

pregnant-belly

Dr. Tamer Seckin, a gynecologist in New York City, told SELF earlier this year that he has seen a lot of women come into her office after they have unsuccessfully tried in vitro fertilization (IVF), and it turns out they have "every degree of endometriosis."

"A lot of women come to us, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF and other failed fertility treatments, with no relevant symptoms, and you can find every degree of endometriosis," Dr. Seckin said. "If you fail two or three rounds of IVF, especially if you have painful periods, definitely go and be checked."

Update 10/3/2016 5:01 p.m. PT: An earlier version of this article used an incorrect pronoun to describe Dr. Seckin.