Endometriosis is a condition where the uterine lining that is shed each month during your period grows outside of the uterus itself. This can make periods much more debilitating and can cause heavier bleeding. In some cases, it can even cause infertility. Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose because it is largely characterized by pelvic pain, a symptom that is often linked to other issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, STIs, and even ovarian or colon cancer.

The truth is that endometriosis is hard to tack down, particularly by doctors who are not specialists in female health. However, if you have pain that won’t go away, it is important to be persistent and advocate for your own healthcare. Some women go years without a proper diagnosis. If you have longer and more painful periods than average, experience pain during or after sex, and/or chronic pain in the pelvic region, then it is time to talk to your OBGYN about endometriosis.

Endometriosis is more than just bad cramps; it’s a chronic reproductive condition that can leave you feeling nauseated and fatigued on top of dealing with excruciating pain. Sometimes these symptoms are so severe that it can interfere with everyday activities. It’s important to remember that horrible periods like that are not normal, and if debilitating periods are something that you experience regularly then it is time to get help.

If you or your doctor suspects you have endometriosis, first they will conduct a pelvic exam to check for abnormalities like cysts. However, if the excess endometrial lining caused by endometriosis is not visible via a pelvic exam, your doctor may not discover anything out of the ordinary. That does not mean there is not a problem. If a pelvic exam is inconclusive, an ultrasound may be performed. Like a pelvic exam, an ultrasound cannot identify endometriosis itself, but it can reveal symptoms of endometriosis-like cysts. As a last resort, your doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery to properly diagnose. This surgery allows your doctor to physically look for excess endometrial tissue growth and determine the severity of the case. Surgery is truly the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis and remove the excess tissue causing the problem. While this may sound scary, there are surgical procedures that can conserve the reproductive organs and will not harm your chances of conceiving in the future. Even though surgery can be effective, as many as 40 percent of women with endometriosis show recurrence of the condition, so monitoring your pain after surgery is important.

Surgery is not the only treatment option. Many women find relief from the pain with anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, however, drugs like these do not halt the progression of endometriosis itself. Because endometriosis is a reproductive condition, many treatments work by interrupting the normal hormone cycle. These treatment options can include GnRH analogs, oral contraceptive pills, and progestins. Although this all may seem daunting, endometriosis is a condition that can be easily monitored with a little help from your OBGYN and does not always require extreme treatments.