Endometriosis and Me - Part 1

In December 2014, I went to the gynecologist for the first time in…well…a long time. My “annual” exam schedule had somehow ended up on a twice-per-decade schedule. I blame a lack of insurance to some degree, but of course, I can also blame myself. After all, I spent years with no insurance and was able to gather together enough money to see doctors to treat my migraine, even if I didn’t go as often as they recommended.

Changes to my menstrual cycle

Over the last many years, I have noticed a few things about my cycle. My periods were getting longer and longer, but I just figured I was one of those women who bled longer than others. They were also getting heavier, and I just figured I was one of those women with heavy periods. My cramps got worse, but over such a long period that I didn’t think of the pain as a worrisome change — I just thought my body’s patterns were changing as I got older.

Ovulation pain

My ovulation pain (also known as “mittelschmerz”) would be really bad one month and kind of mild the next. For awhile I had a constant discomfort on the right side of my abdomen — it got worse during ovulation and during my period, so about half the time it was uncomfortable. Sometimes it was painful, but usually it was just distracting and annoying. It felt like a gas bubble in my intestine. I didn’t really think much about it.

Explaining my menstrual cycle, periods, and pain

When I went for my long-awaited exam in December, the nurse practitioner asked me about my cycle, my periods, any irregular pain or bleeding, and the like.  The longer I talked, the more I realized I had to tell. It was like, “Oh yeah! And this. Oh yeah! This also happens to me.  Oh yeah! This hurts sometimes…well…all the time.” 

Taking a sonogram of my pelvic area

Her expression turned from one of patient interest to concern, complete with an involuntary frown. She retrieved a sonogram machine and looked at my pelvic area, then called in the doctor, who has more experience and expertise. 

An endometrioma on my right ovary

They couldn’t be 100% sure, but they were pretty confident they were looking at an endometrioma on my right ovary. An endometrioma is a type of cyst formed when endometriomal tissue grows outside of the uterus.

What were my options?

Based on the size of the growth, the doctor recommended surgery. An option would also be to wait and see and check back in six weeks, but she looked over my history and heard complaints of my discomfort and heavy bleeding and asked that I consider surgery as an option. The only way to know for sure if the growth was endometriosis was to have laproscopic surgery.

A surgical removal of the endometrioma

After much hemming and hawing and bank account balancing and talking to friends and family, I decided to move forward with the surgery. In mid-January, I had the procedure. Biospies confirmed that the growth on my ovary was indeed a part of endometriosis, and the doctor removed endometrial tissue (which cannot be seen in scans in advance) from my pelvic area. There was even some attached to my bladder that she lasered off.

What does endometriosis have to do with migraine?

Why am I telling my story of endometriosis on a website dedicated to migraine? Well, it’s because of the correlation between endometriosis and migraine in women. (Remember your introductory statistics class: correlation does not imply causation, meaning one illness is not proven to cause the other). Diana Lee’s article from 2011 is excellent. Dr. Susan Hutchinson’s book The Woman’s Guide to Managing Migraine explores the relationship between so-called “women’s issues” and migraine and comes highly recommended.

Have you had any of these experiences?

If you are a migraineur (or not!) who suffers from pelvic pain, heavy periods, long periods, an irregular cycle, painful intercourse, painful bowel movements, or any other signs of endometriosis, please visit your gynecologist and report your symptoms.

Stay tuned for future articles part 2 and part 3 on how life has been since my surgery, how I’m treating my condition now, and the like.

In the meantime, let us know if you have ever been diagnosed with endometriosis.  What has your experience been like? 

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