Teen Health: Is Period Pain Something More Serious?
Diagnosing, Treating Endometriosis Earlier Can Help Prevent Long Term Damage
When you have limited experience with your period, being able to determine what is normal and when something is wrong can be difficult. When something feels wrong, it can be very upsetting. Young women and young men can experience the rapid hormone changes of puberty with varying degrees of apprehension. The obvious changes are usually discussed: visible changes to the body, hair growth, and the discussion of girls getting their period. These all tend to be at a surface level. “This is what’s going to happen to you, good luck!”
The emotions driven by these hormonal changes are often uncontrollable, as witnessed by sudden mood swings by both young women and men. As all of these changes are happening simultaneously, it can be hard to know what to ask. For some young women, conversations about what to expect the first time they get their period are relegated to health class, or pamphlets from a pediatrician, and these tend to have more general information for the masses rather than delve deeply into specific concerns. What happens after the first time can be a mystery. Those who are lucky to have an open dialogue with their parents, aunts, grandparents, or another adult may find it easier to discuss these changes a bit more in-depth, and together they can seek better answers from more qualified sources.
Period pain & cramping is normal, right?
A bit of discomfort occurs with your period, but it’s important to speak up when you feel like something isn’t right. Severe period pain is not normal. Up to 90% of women experience cramping to some degree prior to or during their period, but it should not keep you from living your life, attending school, work, or activity that you normally do. If normal pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen do not relieve the pain, and you experience this every time you have a period, it is important to document what is happening and see a doctor.
Many women who suffer from a GYN condition called endometriosis complained that they had been suffering with severe pelvic pain, difficulty going to the bathroom, lower back pain and other symptoms since their early teens when their periods first started or soon after. These women often suffered for years before getting a doctor to pay attention to their symptoms. More often than not, doctors tell their patients the pain was just in their head, or that they just wanted attention. For many of these women, once finally examined, the extent of damage done to the pelvis, including the bowel, bladder was severe.
What Is Endometriosis?
Normally, the lining of the uterus (endometrial lining) builds up each month and then sheds when it has not been implanted with an embryo. The lining leaves the body through the vagina when a woman has her period.
With endometriosis, cells that are similar to those found in the endometrial lining grow in areas other than the uterus. They are responsive to the hormone estrogen. These cells build up, shed and are then trapped. There is no pathway to leave the body, so as the tissue becomes inflamed. It is possible for endometriosis to cause severe pelvic pain and over time, it can create pelvic adhesions or scarring, that can also cause pain, affect a woman’s ability to go to the bathroom, or make it harder for her to have a baby.
Diagnosing Endometriosis Early
Delaying diagnosis creates complications. A recent global study found that it can take an average of 7 years to get a proper diagnosis of endometriosis, and many of these women sought medical help before age 19. Endometriosis gets progressively worse, so it is important to get evaluated as early as possible by a GYN specialist, especially if other doctors ignore your symptoms or cannot find a cause for your menstrual pain.
Endometriosis organizations are making great strides in educating the teenagers, schools, the public and the medical community about the condition.
The Endometriosis Foundation of America has developed tools for young women to track their symptoms, know what questions to ask, and there are videos that explain endometriosis myths and facts. They also have a school program The ENPOWR Project, which is the country’s first educational program focused on raising endometriosis awareness among the adolescent population for the purpose of early diagnosis. ENPOWR stresses the importance of self-advocacy when dealing with reproductive health, and arms both boys and girls with the tools needed to navigate a challenging healthcare environment.
The Endometriosis Research Center provides information about their GirlTalk program to endometriosis support groups internationally and the GirlTalk Facebook group is an interactive supportive resource for young women.
Minimally Invasive Endometriosis Excision (or Resection) Is Possible
It is now possible to get targeted treatment for endometriosis by a minimally invasive GYN surgical specialist. For decades, women who were diagnosed with endometriosis were subjected to many therapies that did not work, culminating in many unnecessary hysterectomies. The choice was either to suffer with the pain, take or have surgery that made carrying a baby impossible. And after the hysterectomy, many women still had pain from endometriosis because the underlying cause of the pain wasn’t removed.
Minimally invasive endometriosis removal is an advanced surgical procedure that spares the uterus, which is important for young women who are still planning their futures. The minimally invasive GYN specialists at The Center for Innovative GYN Care developed DualPortGYN, a groundbreaking technique for endometriosis excision or resection (removal) that uses only 2 tiny incisions. There is virtually no scarring, as the incisions are cosmetically placed at the belly button and the bikini line. Lesions or endometriotic cysts are completely removed, leaving the uterus intact.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are ways to treat it that allow women to retain their reproductive organs so they are able to have children in the future.
Support for Young Girls With Severe Pelvic Pain
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