Endometriosis is a condition in women where the tissue that lines the uterus, the endometrium, is found in the abdomen outside the uterus. It can cause severe cramps, inflammation, and can lead to infertility and other problems. About 89 million women worldwide have endometriosis, but it is often overlooked in teen girls.
Other symptoms of endometriosis include bowel problems that accompany a girl's period, including painful bowel movements, constipation, or diarrhea. The pain during a girl's period caused by endometriosis may be severe and debilitating.
Many teen girls who have endometriosis may not be diagnosed correctly until they are older, in their twenties or even their thirties. They may go to several doctors and be told that their painful symptoms are a normal part of menstruation. Doctors may miss the right diagnosis because they think that teen girls are too young to have endometriosis.
"Many times, we hear that girls are told they're too young to have the disease, they're trying to get out of school, or that they're exaggerating," said Mary Lou Ballweg, president and executive director of the Endometriosis Association. "Add the misconception that pain with menstruation is normal, and you get a bundle of confusion. And not the least, most gynecologists are uncomfortable treating adolescent gynecological problems, and pediatricians don't," she said in an interview with the New York Times.
It is not known why endometrial tissue forms outside the uterus. However it gets there, it can start to form layers over the ovaries and other organs in the abdomen. The tissue starts to behave like the endometrial tissue in the uterus, which is why the monthly changes in hormone levels cause pain during the regular menstrual cycle.
Treatment for endometriosis can include hormone therapy such as oral contraceptives or an intrauterine device that delivers progesterone to the uterus. However, severe cases may need to be treated surgically, with procedures that remove some of the scar tissue that has formed. In severe cases, a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) will not necessarily help because endometrial tissue is left behind in the abdomen.