What is Endometriosis? A Women’s Health Doc Explains

by | Updated: April 1st, 2022 | Read time: 5 minutes

Few women are immune to the aches and pains that often arrive with menstruation—to say nothing of the bloating, mood swings and insomnia that frequently accompany it.

And yet, what if your menstrual cramps weren’t just uncomfortable, but downright agonizing?

Woman on Couch Holding Abdomen in Pain to Represent What is Endometriosis | Vitacost.com/blog

If this sounds familiar, you may have endometriosis—a debilitating condition that affects approximately 11 percent of women in the United States.

Translation? More than 6.5 million females.

What is endometriosis, though? How can it impact your life—and what treatments are available?

What is endometriosis?

First, a primer on female anatomy:

Your uterus—or womb—is a hollow organ located in your pelvis. It possesses a muscular outer layer called the myometrium, as well as an inner lining known as the endometrium. During your cycle, the estrogen your ovaries generate thickens your endometrium, thereby preparing your body for a possible pregnancy. It’s a natural, beautiful part of being a woman.

With endometriosis, however, the tissue that comprises your endometrium—that inner layer—grows outside of your uterus, as well as on “other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong,” the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports. These may include your fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, cervix, pelvic walls and the outer surface of your womb.

While these growths are benign—meaning, they’re not cancerous—they can (and do) swell and cause pain. They also bleed, much in the same way the inner lining of your uterus sheds and bleeds every month. “This,” the Office on Women’s Health explains, “can cause swelling and pain because the tissue grows and bleeds in an area where it cannot easily get out of your body.”

What’s more—and to add insult to injury, so to speak—endometrium lesions can further expand and trigger issues ranging from the formation of cysts, scar tissue, and pelvic pain to difficulty getting pregnant.

Additionally, the pain created by endometriosis can impact every major domain of your life: Socializing, sex, work, daily tasks—you name it.

In other words? It’s vital to see a specialist to manage it, should you experience its primary symptoms.

Which brings us to our next point…

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

As common as endometriosis may be, it takes an average of seven and a half years to receive a proper diagnosis.

The reason for this is four-pronged: There’s a lack of awareness about the condition among general practitioners, it’s often mischaracterized as dysmenorrhea (read: painful periods), there’s no simple test to identify it, and it’s regularly confused with other health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease. Identifying endometriosis involves a pelvic exam including an ultrasound to identify “chocolate cysts” (endometrial tissue growing on the ovaries), and laparoscopic surgery to see endometrial lesions in the pelvis.

That said, there are a number of telling symptoms associated with the disorder. These include:

  • Unbearable menstrual cramps
  • Pain during and after sex
  • Chronic aches in the lower back and pelvic region
  • Stomach aches
  • Infertility
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Bleeding and/or spotting between periods
  • Blood in your stool
  • Painful bowel movements and urination
  • Fatigue during your period

Do note as well that while endometriosis can affect any woman of menstruating age, it is the most prevalent among women in their 30s and 40s. Further, it’s more common among women who have a) a family member with the condition, b) never had children, c) experience, or have experienced, short menstrual cycles and periods that persist longer than the typical seven days, and d) a low BMI.

How is endometriosis be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for endometriosis. Rather, it’s a condition, similar to say, diabetes, that must be managed.

This is largely accomplished by reducing the amount of estrogen you generate, as estrogen works to thicken your uterine lining during your cycle. You can aim for this by adhering to the following:

Eschew alcohol

Studies show that alcohol—particularly substantial amounts of it—alters the way you metabolize estrogen, ultimately causing estrogen levels to ascend.

Sweat it out

Aerobic exercise is a boon—not just in general but especially for those with endometriosis (as well as other health conditions).


Research reveals that as little as five hours per week of exercise can reduce estrogen levels. Just be careful: Over-exercising can also cause estrogen to dip too low.

Call upon turmeric and ginger

Turmeric organically encourages hormone regulation, thanks to its ability to promote detoxification. What does this mean in regards to estrogen? It aids in estrogen elimination. Meanwhile, ginger naturally assists with hormone balance. Kill two birds with one stone with https://www.vitacost.com/paromi-tea-organic-green-tea

Heat it up

If you’re overwhelmed with pain due to endometriosis, know that heat can supply immediate—and sometimes lasting—relief. A heating pad, a warm bath, time in a hot tub—all can offer respite from the cramps that arrive with the condition

Birth control

If you’re not planning on becoming pregnant, keep in mind that birth control can work wonders in regulating your hormones. Speak with your OBGYN about a pill that may be right for you.

Eat well

Several foods cause inflammation, which can exacerbate the effects of endometriosis. Dairy, sugar and caffeine are especial culprits. Instead, fill your plate with anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, celery, blueberries and bone broth. The latter of which is rich in amino acids, which are critical to hormone balance.


Consider the ancient therapy of acupuncture with a trained professional. Acupuncture can help mitigate pain and “stagnation” associated with endometrial lesions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture moves Qi and blood which can in turn help lessen the debilitating symptoms.

Should these natural solutions not work for you, consult with your trusted health care provider. Severe endometriosis may require surgery to remove the endometrial tissue, or a hysterectomy.

In the meantime, listen to your body—and know that excruciating periods, as well as the other symptoms mentioned above, could be indicative of endometriosis.

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