You probably don’t associate digestive issues with your reproductive tract, but endometriosis can certainly cause problems with your digestion. Many patients are incorrectly diagnosed with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease when they actually have endometriosis.
At Apple Hill Gynecology, we treat many women who have endometriosis. Sometimes our patients don’t mention their digestive issues, because they don’t realize those issues may stem from endometriosis. Dr. Marsha Bornt and her staff may ask questions that seem unrelated to endometriosis during your visit, and in this post, we explore some of the ways this gynecological condition can impact your digestive tract.
A quick review of endometriosis
Your endometrium is the lining of your uterus. During each menstrual cycle, it grows, then breaks down and bleeds away during your period.
When you have endometriosis, your endometrium grows in places it shouldn’t, outside your uterus. It may grow on the outside of your uterus, or it may grow on other nearby organs.
The endometrium outside your uterus behaves exactly the same as if it were inside your uterus. As part of your menstrual cycle, it breaks down and tries to bleed away. However, since it’s outside your uterus, there’s nowhere for it to go.
Since there’s no escape for the broken down endometrium, the surrounding tissues may become irritated and inflamed. You may develop scar tissue, or the affected tissues may stick together, pulling things out of alignment and causing problems.
Gastrointestinal structures commonly affected
It isn’t unusual for endometriosis to occur in the lining of your abdominal cavity, your peritoneum. It may also affect the area behind your uterus, between your uterus and rectum. Scar tissue there can cause painful bowel movements and constipation, along with painful sex.
Endometriosis in your rectum can cause extremely painful bowel movements and rectal bleeding. It may also cause back pain.
Endometriosis on the outside of your intestines can be difficult to recognize, and even a colonoscopy may not reveal the problem. When endometriosis is on your bowel, it’s called bowel endometriosis, and experts estimate about 30% of people with endometriosis experience it.
Your appendix, too, may be a site for endometriosis. When that happens, you may feel bloated, gassy, and experience pain.
Gastrointestinal symptoms of endometriosis
You may be wondering what to watch for to know if endometriosis is affecting your digestive tract. Common symptoms include:
- Pain in your abdomen
- Nausea, bloating, gassiness
- Intestinal cramps and pain that can be severe
- Painful intercourse
- Painful bowel movements
- Rectal pain
An early diagnosis may help you avoid painful consequences. For example, if you have a small lesion on your bowel, it can progress to the point it obstructs your bowel without treatment. An obstructed bowel often requires major surgery.
If you’ve noticed that you have digestive issues around your period, but not at other times, it could be related to endometriosis. You should discuss gastrointestinal symptoms with Dr. Bornt.
If you have questions, or think you may have bowel endometriosis, schedule an appointment at Apple Hill Gynecology today.