NutriSense Blog
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

March 10, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Brooke McKelvey

Do you get severe pain during your periods? Do you also experience nausea, lower back pain, and heavy bleeding? You may think these are just the usual side effects of a ‘bad period,’ but you don’t have to suffer through them! They can be symptoms of or increase your risk factors for various conditions, including one affecting the endometrium or lining of the uterus.

It’s called endometriosis, and it’s a common yet often misunderstood disorder, even though it affects millions of women. Often dismissed as bad menstrual cramps, it has debilitating symptoms that dramatically impact your quality of life. The condition affects an estimated two to 10 percent of women between 25 and 40.

Unfortunately, like many women's health issues, endometriosis is under diagnosed or undiagnosed. It happens due to several factors—there’s not enough research, some gynecologists are wary of diagnosing it too quickly, and many women are unaware of the symptoms of endometriosis. You may think the endometriosis-associated menstrual blood, cramps, and severe pain is simply a painful period because that’s what we’ve all been taught to believe!

But the early diagnosis of endometriosis is essential because if it’s left untreated, it can lead to infertility. If you think you have any of the symptoms, it’s crucial to get evaluated as early as possible. But, since treatment of endometriosis can be as elusive as the diagnosis itself, the first and most vital step is to understand the condition.

Since March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, we thought we’d spend some time explaining the condition and its effects on women’s health. We've also got a couple of firsthand accounts from some of our team members to shed more light on the subject. Read on to learn more.

What is Endometriosis?

a doctor examining patient's stomach

Endometriosis is a chronic condition where endometrial tissue, typically on the inside lining of the uterus, grows outside it. It’s a common gynecological disease that affects women of reproductive age.

To explain it a little further, it occurs when the cells lining the uterus (endometrium) inside grow outside of the uterus. It is most commonly on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and space around the bladder and rectum. Endometriosis can cause severe pain and increase your risk factors for health problems like infertility. 

What Are the Causes of Endometriosis?

a doctor making notes

Researchers and healthcare professionals are still trying to figure out the exact causes of endometriosis. They know it affects the immune cells, red blood cells, and endometrial cells, so there is some evidence and research on how it affects women’s health. But research on what really causes endometriosis is still ongoing.

Some researchers believe the cause of endometriosis, which affects menstrual periods, has something to do with menstrual flow. In particular, retrograde menstruation. Retrograde, or reverse menstruation, occurs when (as the name suggests) your flow moves in the wrong direction. It flows through your fallopian tubes into areas of your body like the pelvic cavity. Most women experience this at some point, but increased instances of retrograde menstruation may increase your risk of endometriosis.

Other risk factors for the condition include your genes and altered immune function. For example, if your immune system is working well, it may be more capable of destroying endometrial tissue adhesions outside the uterus.

Your hormones can also play a role here. There’s some research on whether diseases like endometrial cancer have a link to hormones like estrogen. Some surgeries like cesarean births and hysterectomies can cause scar tissue issues. In these instances, it can affect endometrial tissue and increase your risk of endometriosis.

What Are Some Common Symptoms of Endometriosis?

a person having a stomach-ache

Endometriosis affects an estimated one in 10 women of reproductive age. Although there are treatment options and ways to manage your symptoms, it’s a lifelong condition that requires daily self-care and monitoring. Knowing some of the most common symptoms of endometriosis is an excellent first step to understanding the condition.

Common Symptoms of Endometriosis

  • The most common symptom of endometriosis is a painful period. The severe pain often begins before a menstrual period and extends into the menstrual cycle. The pain may also include severe lower back and stomach pain. 
  • Another common symptom women experience is pain during (and sometimes after) sexual intercourse. Sometimes this pain starts as a dull pain; other times, it's a severe pain that makes maintaining a healthy intimate life challenging for many women.
  • Some women experience fatigue before and during their menstrual cycle. In extreme cases, this can develop into chronic fatigue. 
  • Many women report stomach complications like constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea during their menstrual cycles. 
  • Endometriosis can cause painful bowel movements and urination in some women. It is usually related to the menstrual cycle. 
  • If left untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility. Unfortunately, this is often how many women discover they have the condition. 
a diagram of some complications caused by endometriosis

How to Treat Endometriosis

a doctor talking to a patient and making notes

 The diagnosis of this condition can be a challenge, but if you think something is wrong, listen to your body and insist on getting the required tests. Ask for a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, or even an MRI to check various parts of your body, including your reproductive organs. If you get a diagnosis, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Here are some of the most common ones:

Laparoscopy: A laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure, sometimes used to diagnose definitively and then treat endometriosis.

Pain Medicine: One of the most common treatments for endometriosis is medication. These are usually over-the-counter and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen. Some cases of severe pain may call for opioid prescriptions. 

Contraceptives: Birth control pills are often a form of hormone therapy by doctors treating endometriosis. 

Hormone Therapy: Progestin therapy and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists are a few hormone therapy treatments that doctors sometimes utilize. 

Hysterectomy: A hysterectomy is usually considered a drastic measure. Healthcare providers don’t recommend it unless you have a severe case or develop lesions or ovarian cysts from the condition. Hysterectomies are surgeries that remove the uterus and sometimes the ovaries and fallopian tube from the body.

The Relationship Between Blood Sugar and Endometriosis

a person being applied a CGM sensor to their upper arm

The chronic condition also impacts blood sugar levels—and managing them may help manage symptoms of endometriosis. By managing your blood sugar levels, you can help reduce some of the severe pain and symptoms associated with the condition. Unregulated blood sugar has been linked to worsened symptoms of endometriosis. This is especially true of symptoms like fatigue and severe pain during menstrual cycles. 

Stories of Endometriosis Management

Dealing with and managing the symptoms of endometriosis can be an overwhelming prospect. Since the condition is under diagnosed and under researched, everything from diagnosis to treatment can be challenging. It’s a good idea to join a support group so you can talk to other women before, during, or after a diagnosis.

And, if you’re still wondering whether what you’re feeling is a symptom of endometriosis, hearing firsthand accounts can help. Here are some accounts from two members of the NutriSense team that may be able to help.

Luz Cortazer and her quote "I assumed the severe pain I was feeling was normal..."

"I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2017, but only after emergency surgery. I spent more than 20 years menstruating, ignoring that I had the condition. I normalized that my period would leave me in unbearable pain every month. I assumed the heavy bleeding and pelvic pain were normal, and I just needed to “man up” and get on with my life.

That’s what medical professionals would say too! “Oh, you need to take birth control to ease the pain. When you become a mother, it will get better. Don’t worry, it happens….” But then a 9-centimeter cyst got infected in my right ovary, and I had a high fever for over a week. 

I wasn’t even aware that a tennis ball lived in my uterus since women in my condition can develop a cyst over a short period. It got so bad that my appendix became infected too. The doctor decided to take me to the operating room after an unsuccessful four-day in-hospital intravenous antibiotics treatment.

Fortunately, my right ovary is still alive, and I said goodbye to a useless organ. But it was only after the intervention that my doctor explained that I had this incurable yet treatable condition. Raising awareness is one of the things we need to work on. So, since this is Endometriosis Awareness Month, I wanted to share my story to tell all you Endo Warriors out there—we're not alone. And, most of all, if you haven’t been diagnosed yet, to remind you—pain is not normal. Please listen to your body and find a doctor who listens to you!"

Check out more from Luz’s story on Instagram.

Heather Davis and her quote "I underwent multiple levels of drug therapy to "treat" this condition.

"I was diagnosed with endometriosis in my teens, and my diagnosis continued throughout the early part of my twenties. I underwent multiple levels of drug therapy, including chemically-induced menopause, to "treat" the condition. Unfortunately, all of these approaches led to worsened symptoms and additional medical conditions that continued advancing throughout my twenties. 

After spending over a decade seeking answers from every corner of the medical world (both traditional and functional/alternative) without much progress, I was beyond frustrated and felt defeated. But I didn't give up searching for answers! It was a unique approach to customized nutrition therapy that eventually led to my successful recovery. And not only from endometriosis but other diagnoses too, including PCOS, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more. 

This profound personal experience of transforming my health and regaining my hormone balance inspired me to complete my master's in nutrition science and become a dietitian to practice clinical nutrition for a living.

To date, I've worked with hundreds of women struggling with various hormonal imbalances, including endometriosis. And I've seen the incomparable power of customized nutrition offer them hope when other avenues have failed them. 

Each person is unique, so what dietary approach works for one person may not work the same for another—but understanding how to navigate and customize those experiments and tools is what's important."

a list of key takeaways


Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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7
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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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8
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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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7
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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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6
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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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10
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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7
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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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8
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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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5
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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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8
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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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6
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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8
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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9
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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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8
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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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7
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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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6
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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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10
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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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6
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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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9
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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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10
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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8
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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9
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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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8
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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.