Most women are no stranger to discomfort – mood swings, bloating, mild cramps – during menstruation, but that time of the month can be particularly painful for women with endometriosis. For some, it can be debilitating, forcing them take strong analgesics and often miss work for days.

Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects millions of women worldwide. It occurs when endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, is found in places where it shouldn’t be – namely, outside the uterine cavity. Endometriosis is most commonly found on the ovaries in the form of cysts and as implants in the pelvic cavity.  But endometrial cells can occasionally travel in the blood stream to distant locations, such as the lungs, and create severe problems with unusual presentations.

Drew Tortoriello, MD at Sher Fertility Institute New York, shares the signs of endometriosis, both common and unusual, that women with endometriosis can suffer with each month.

Sign #1: Seriously Painful Periods

Seriously painful periods are not always caused by uterine fibroids. For many women, endometriosis causes severe and at times incapacitating, menstrual pain. The cause of endometriosis is unclear, but early diagnosis is key to successfully managing and treating the disease. Laparoscopy, an outpatient surgical procedure, can both diagnose the problem and its severity as well as allow for its excision.  However, endometriosis is tenacious, and will often recur even with skillful removal.

Sign #2:  Infertility

Another condition associated with endometriosis is infertility. If endometrial lesions are located in the fallopian tubes, it can make it difficult for a man’s sperm to connect with a woman’s egg. Even in cases where there is little or no scarring in the fallopian tubes, endometriosis can make conception challenging.  The inflammatory reaction within the pelvic cavity to the endometriosis can hurt the health of both eggs and sperm, leading to decreased fertilization and poorer embryo quality. A woman typically has a 20% chance of conceiving each month, but endometriosis may lower it by half.

Sign #3: Gastrointestinal Distress

A fellow chronic condition, irritable bowel syndrome, is characterized by many of the symptoms found in those with endometriosis.  Cramping, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and constipation are shared symptoms. Women with endometriosis notice that these symptoms are markedly worse when they have their period, which could mean endometrial cells are somewhere in the GI tract.   Painful bowel movements can also occur, and this can be mistaken for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Sign #4: Frequent Urination

Running to the bathroom constantly, or the feeling of having to go, is often associated with urinary tract infections. Endometrial lesions on the bladder can cause the same feelings during your menstrual cycle. If you rule out urinary tract infections but still have urinary frequency and pain, especially during the time preceding your period, a urological consult is warranted to rule out more unusual reasons for your symptoms such as endometriosis.

Sign #5: Breathing Discomfort

Surprisingly, painful respiration, often mistaken for pneumonia, can be a rare manifestation of endometriosis. As mentioned earlier, endometrial cells often don’t stay where they’re supposed to…they can travel throughout the body. When they make their home in a woman’s diaphragm, they can cause painful breathing and intense discomfort when trying to move the upper body or upper arms during menstruation.

Knowledge is power. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned each month during your period, we encourage you to contact Sher Fertility Institute New York at 646-792-7476 or click here to schedule an appointment with one of our fertility doctors. Our Patient Care Specialists will contact you within the next 24 hours.