Severe Menstrual Pain is NOT Normal

Woman on bed holds her abdomen

Dr. Amanda Ecker busts six myths about endometriosis

You've probably heard that pain with your period is part of being a woman. It's not true. Painful periods that impact your daily functioning aren't normal. This could be a sign of endometriosis, a disease where tissue normally found in the lining of your uterus grows elsewhere in your abdomen. 

"It's estimated that ten percent of women have endometriosis, and it could be as high as 80 percent in women with infertility or chronic pelvic pain," says Amanda Ecker, M.D., OHSU OB-GYN and endometriosis expert. We asked her to bust some myths about this common disease. 

MYTH: Endometriosis is like really intense PMS. 

Pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS, is generally worse in the two weeks before your period, while endometriosis pain is typically worse during your period. "The symptoms are different too," says Dr. Ecker. "PMS causes mostly mood symptoms, like irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. The hallmark of endometriosis is pain." 

MYTH: Endometriosis can be caused by douching, abortion or infections. 

None of these cause endometriosis. In fact, the cause is unknown. "We know some of the risk factors, including a family history of endometriosis and starting menstruation young or continuing to menstruate well past 50," Dr. Ecker says. 

MYTH: Women under 30 don't get endometriosis.  

There are documented cases of endometriosis in women as young as eight and as old as 80, but most occur in menstruating women in their teens, 20s or 30s. 

MYTH: Women with endometriosis can't get pregnant. 

While endometriosis can cause infertility, women with endometriosis definitely can get pregnant. The best fertility test is to attempt pregnancy when you're ready! "If you have fertility issues, surgical treatment for endometriosis can improve fertility rates," Dr. Ecker says. 

MYTH: If you have endometriosis, you will need surgery every few years to remove it. 

"I hear this all the time," says Dr. Ecker. "But repetitive surgery has risks and is not a sustainable management plan." Medications that inhibit estrogen, like birth control, are important options. 

MYTH: Untreated endometriosis gets worse. 

Experts aren't sure whether endometriosis is a disease that progresses. Moreover, you can have a lot of endometriosis and little or no pain, or a little endometriosis but intense pain. "If you're not in pain or having fertility issues, there's no need to treat endometriosis," Dr. Ecker says.  

The most important thing to know is that pelvic pain, whatever the cause, isn't normal. If pain is impacting your life, talk to your doctor. Whether or not it's endometriosis, you don't have to suffer.

First published in Portland Monthly magazine's Women's Health Annual.