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Endometriosis happens when endometrial tissue, which normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows elsewhere in the body, like on the ovaries or in the fallopian tubes. This abnormal growth causes an inflammatory response, and “this tissue is then able to reproduce itself as part of an inflammatory process,” Tamer Seckin, M.D., an NYC-based gynecologist who specializes in treating women with endometriosis, co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, and author of Recognizing and Treating Endometriosis, tells SELF. “We don’t know exactly how it gets there,” he adds, though genetics seem to play a role. Whether your case is considered mild, moderate, or severe depends on how widespread the growths are.
Endometriosis affects women during their fertile years, so after their first period, but before menopause. It’s estimated that one in 10 girls and women in the U.S. suffer from it, but many are never diagnosed or are misdiagnosed for years. Endometriosis can cause serious pain and is a one of the leading causes of infertility, so learning you have it is important so you can take full control of your s.e.x.u.a.l and reproductive health.
These are the most common symptoms of endometriosis that all women of child-bearing age need to be aware of.
1. Heavy periods
Many women with endometriosis experience extremely heavy periods and may even notice clots in their period blood. When you get your period, the endometrial growths react to menstrual hormones from your ovaries the same way the lining of your uterus does, so they grow and bleed, too. As endometrial growths get bigger over time, they can bleed even more.
“Many endometriosis patients’ symptoms start very early in their menstrual life,” Seckin says. The Mayo Clinic notes the condition usually develops a few years after the first period, so women with endometriosis may just think that’s what a normal period is supposed to look and feel like.