While endometriosis is a common condition, affecting as many as one in every 10 American women, it is complex and often misunderstood. Endometriosis occurs when tissue much like the tissue that normally lines the uterus — called the endometrium — starts to grow elsewhere in the body. These growths may cause pain, scarring, and, in some instances, infertility.
One study shows it can take up to seven years for a woman to get a diagnosis of endometriosis because symptoms may mimic other common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or pelvic inflammatory disease. And misconceptions about the disease, including the five myths below, may keep some women from seeking help. Talk to your health care team if you’re concerned about painful periods or other possible symptoms of endometriosis, such as long-lasting pain in your lower back or pelvis.
5 myths — and the facts — about endometriosis
Myth 1: The symptoms are just a heavy period. Women with endometriosis sometimes assume that their symptoms are a normal part of menstruation, and when they do seek help they are sometimes dismissed as overreacting to normal menstrual symptoms. But in fact, something much more serious is going on than period cramps. One theory is that the pain occurs because even when endometrium-like tissue is outside the uterus, it continues to respond to hormonal signals and produce chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.
During the course of the menstrual cycle, this endometrium-like tissue thickens and eventually bleeds. But unlike endometrial tissue in the uterus, which is able to drain through the vagina each month, blood from displaced tissue has nowhere to go. Instead, it pools near the affected organs and tissues, irritating and inflaming them. The result is pain, and sometimes the development of scar tissue that can form a web, fusing