Could your period pain be endometriosis?
We've all been there, curled up on the couch with a hot water bottle on our stomach when those monthly cramps descend on us with a vengeance. While there have been many articles on how things like chocolate and a couple of ibuprofen can help ease period pain, if you're experiencing leg or back pain, nausea or bleeding at unexpected times of the month, it could be a more serious condition called endometriosis.
This is when bits of the uterus lining grow in other places, such as the ovaries, bladder or intestines.
"Pain during or after sex can also be a key symptom. Patients might [experience] a deep stabbing pain, maybe not every time they have sex - it could be in middle of their cycle or any time, not just during their period," Dr Lara Briden told the Daily Mail Australia. "Seeing blood a day or two before is normal, but other times during the month is definitely a reason to see doctor. Normal period pain should be on the first or second day of bleeding, not later in the bleeding cycle or before. So timing is all part of the warning signs."
There can be a genetic link to endometriosis too. Many women could have a mother or sister who has had severe period pain and so they think it's normal, but a doctor might see this medical history and instantly take it more seriously. Dr Briden's concern is that the symptoms are so easily shrugged off, meaning diagnosis can take longer than necessary.
"It is so easily dismissed and... often I am the first health practitioner to raise that it could be endometriosis. The only definitive way to know is from performing keyhole surgery, where a doctor will put someone under general [anaesthetic] and cut into their abdomen and look what's inside," she explained.
While there isn't an easier way to diagnose it yet, Dr Briden does have some tips on how to manage the condition.
"There is growing evidence that endometriosis is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases attack different parts of [the] body so calling endometriosis one is still quite controversial, but it's the approach I've been taking for many years," she continued. "To prevent regrowth occurring, applying dietary changes that help regulate immune function such as nutritional supplements and probiotics with good bacteria are helpful."