For a long time, Claudia* assumed that her abdominal pain was due to severe menstrual cramps. It took several years for doctors to diagnose her with endometriosis. The 38-year-old shares her story with Melissa Lim.
“From the time I got my first period at 12 until my late teens, I’d never experienced menstrual cramps. I had friends who would double over in pain at the start of their menses because of debilitating cramps, but compared to them, my periods were more or less uneventful.
That changed when I started university. I began experiencing pelvic pain right before a period, with the discomfort sometimes persisting for three or even four days. It was bad – the cramps felt like someone was stabbing my abdomen repeatedly or ripping my intestines out.
On a few occasions, the pain was so unbearable that I had trouble walking or standing and had to skip school so that I could get bed rest. The pain was often accompanied by lower back pain, nausea, migraines and fatigue.
Suffering through years of misdiagnosed pelvic pain
I never saw my doctor about the painful cramps because I figured they were part and parcel of having a period. Plus, the pain always eventually went away. It wasn’t until I was 22 years old that the pain intensified.
When I went for a gynaecological check-up and told the doctor about my painful periods, he said they were normal and gave me painkillers to take whenever I felt the cramps coming on.
Occasionally, I also started to experience mild cramping whenever I was having a bowel movement. I saw another doctor, who linked the discomfort to poor digestion and constipation and told me that my condition would improve if I ate more fibre, drank more water and exercised more regularly.
Sex with my then-partner – now my husband – also hurt at times. Again, I didn’t think much of it and figured it might just be due to the way our bodies were positioned or angled. My partner was also quite well endowed, so naturally I knew to expect some discomfort.
I can’t believe that, all along, I thought that what I was experiencing was normal. Sure, the pain sometimes interfered with my daily routine but what woman didn’t suffer in some way during her period?
I didn’t realise there was a name for my pelvic pain – endometriosis – and it was only when I struggled to fall pregnant in my mid-30s that I was told I had the dreaded disease.
Dreams of having a baby now up in the air
After trying unsuccessfully to fall pregnant, I went for a pelvic examination and discovered that I had ovarian cysts. As devastating as the news was, I was even more horrified when told that I had moderate endometriosis too.
The check-up found that the endometrial tissue found inside my uterus was growing outside of it instead. The tissue had caused inflammation and scarring in my pelvic region, affecting the health and function of my fallopian tubes and ovaries. The extra tissue was also making it difficult for me to conceive so I had to get surgery to remove it.
Now that I’ve had the surgery, my doctor says that I have a good chance of falling pregnant, but as I am now in my late 30s I don’t know how much time I have left to conceive.
I regret not getting a more thorough medical examination when I was in my 20s – it might have revealed the endometriosis and I would’ve gotten treated for it earlier.
I am also angry at all the doctors who told me that my painful cramps were normal or due to my diet, and I’m especially mad with myself for believing them and not getting a second opinion.
What terrifies me most about endometriosis is that no one really knows what causes it. I manage my condition by going for regular check-ups to keep the problem under control.
My husband and I are still trying our best to conceive. Because of my age I know it won’t be easy but we won’t give up.
My advice to any woman who experiences painful periods every month is to get the problem checked out right away. Yes, menstrual cramps are normal and not typically a cause for alarm, but if you ignore the pain and discomfort you may unknowingly be setting yourself up for disappointment when you later decide to have a baby. When it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
*Name has been changed
Find out more about endometriosis below.