Many of us know the pain of period cramps. Your hot water bottle can become your best friend during certain times of the month when your back, abdomen, and even legs are aching. But if those cramps become debilitating, they may not be caused by just your period — they could be a sign of endometriosis.
Endometriosis can sound like a bit of a mouthful. That’s why you might have heard some people call it “endo” for short. It’s a condition that affects around one in 10 women of reproductive age worldwide, but it can take several years on average for a diagnosis. For those who’d like the lowdown on endometriosis, we asked a Flo expert to break down everything you need to know about the condition.
What is endometriosis?
Before we get into the symptoms of endometriosis, it’s useful to understand what it actually is. Endometriosis is a chronic recurring and progressive condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) starts to grow in other places in the body. While this tissue tends to grow in the pelvis — typically on reproductive organs such as your ovaries and uterine (fallopian) tubes and sometimes on your bowels, bladder, and rectum — it has also been known to occasionally grow in the lungs, kidneys, and diaphragm.
You might be curious about how this excess tissue growth can cause chronic pain. The easiest way to answer this is to think about what happens during your period. The tissue that makes up the lining of your uterus builds up throughout your menstrual cycle, and when you have your period, it falls away and leaves your body through your vagina. Endometriosis tissue behaves in exactly the same way.
It builds up during your cycle because it’s hormonally sensitive, but when it’s time for the tissue to shed, it has no way of leaving your body. That means the area where the endometriosis tissue is growing can swell, causing lesions and inflammation around and inside the affected organs. That’s where much of the pain comes from. Similarly, endometriosis causes lesions in your body that produce prostaglandins (which are hormone-like substances). Prostaglandins can cause inflammation and severe pain. You can learn more about endometriosis using an app like Flo.