WELLNESS
03/18/2016 01:29 pm ET

12 Things People With Endometriosis Want You To Know

It's more than just period cramps.

Endometriosis is a complex condition that can make a run-of-the-mill stomach cramp seem like a walk in the park.

The condition occurs when uterine tissue develops outside of the uterus, typically in the pelvic cavity. This tissue can grow on organs like the ovaries and the bowels, leading to inflammation and severe pain.

Basically, it's torture.

Unfortunately, the pain is just the beginning. There are many nuances of endometriosis that lots of people can't begin to comprehend. Below are a just few things women with endo wished others understood about their condition.

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1. Endometriosis is not a "fake illness."

The condition often suffers the same stereotypes as Celiac disease or chronic illness, with many people using it as a punchline rather than taking it seriously. The condition can lead to many health complications and shouldn't be taken lightly.

2. It's worse than regular period symptoms.

You can hardly chalk up the condition to the typical tightness in the abdomen during your period. Endo symptoms include excurciating menstrual cramps, chronic back pain, discomfort during sex and painful bowel movements.

3. Getting pregnant or going through menopause doesn't magically fix it.

Pregnancy or menopause can relieve some of the symptoms, but they're hardly a solution. Endo symptoms will likely appear in one way or another after menopause and will likely come back after a baby is born. Additionally, 50 percent of women with endo struggle with fertility -- so the suggestion of pregnancy may even be an insensitive one in the first place. While, sure, it may be relieved in some capacity, that doesn't mean it's an instant fix.

4. Finding a doctor can sometimes be challenging.

Not all OB-GYNs and primary care doctors are equipped to understand the scope of endometriosis. It may take some exploration to find a clinician that specializes the complexities of the condition and can work with different treatment methods in order to find the best fit for the patient.

5. Endometriosis is more common than most people think.

The condition affects at least 5 million women in the U.S. Many more may have it, and just don't show symptoms.

6. The cause is somewhat of a mystery.

The medical community still hasn't pinpointed a direct cause of endo. Experts believe it comes down to what's known as retrograde menstruation, or the escape of some of the uterine blood and lining into the pelvic cavity that surrounds the organs, Prevention magazine reported. But there's no known catalyst for why this happens.

7. It puts you at risk for other health conditions.

Research suggests there's a link between endo and other issues like allergies, fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. Many women also report having chronic fatigue syndrome.

8. It affects each woman differently.

Endometriosis is not one-size-fits-all, therefore symptoms and treatments vary. Some women can manage their pain with medication or IUDs, others with hormone treatment and some need surgery. There is no "wrong" choice -- it's a decision that's made between the patient and her doctor.

9. The pain is so debilitating you don't want to move...

...but one of the best ways to relieve it is to be active. When you're doubled over thanks to sharp or sometimes almost blinding pain in your stomach, the last thing you possibly feel like doing is getting off your couch. Basically, there's no winning in this situation.

10. Sometimes surgery might be involved.

While it's not the be-all-end-all for the condition, physicians sometimes recommend patients get surgery to help alleviate severe symptoms. Options include an excision surgery, which helps remove the tissue growths outside of the uterus, or even a hysterectomy, a procedure that removes the uterus.

11. You want to sleep. A lot.

The piercing pain takes so much out of you, sometimes taking a nap feels like the only option. Experts say that sleep does help with discomfort. Some doctors who take a holistic approach also recommend adopting an anti-inflammatory diet to help with the symptoms.

12. It's something a woman will deal with for a very long time.

There is no true "cure" for endometriosis, by the way. You can relieve the symptoms but it's something that most patients will continue to deal with for a long time. There is also the very real potential of permanent fertility damage. It's a serious health issue -- and should be treated that way.

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