Often when you hear about endometriosis, it's a story about an extreme situation in which someone has a hysterectomy or rushes to the emergency room. While these stories spread awareness about the painful and often debilitating condition, they're also alarming for the average person who doesn't know what endometriosis is. The reality is that endometriosis affects an estimated one in 10 American women during their reproductive years, and everyone's experience with the chronic disorder is different.
If you've never heard of endometriosis before, it's the presence of small growths (aka "lesions" or "implants") outside of the uterus, says Rebecca Brightman, MD, FACOG, a gynecologist in New York City and educational partner for SpeakENDO, a resource for endometriosis. "Under the microscope, these pieces of tissue resemble tissue we normally find within the uterine lining," she says. Like the uterine lining, this "misplaced tissue" goes through changes during the course of a normal menstrual cycle, she says. This can result in intense pain as well as a number of other uncomfortable symptoms, such as painful urination, sex, and bowel movements.
Without understanding what endometriosis is all about, people are left to interpret what they hear about the condition. So, in honor of Endometriosis Awareness Month this March, here are some important facts you should understand about the common disorder.