How Do Doctors Check For Endometriosis?

If you’re suffering from very painful menstrual cramps, you might think it’s just a phase.

You may also consider it normal to have abdominal pain or back pain during your period or in between periods. Other symptoms might crop up like pain during sex, causing you to wonder if something’s wrong. A risk factor like family history might raise concern that you have endometriosis.1

If you suspect this condition, you’re likely wondering: how do they check for endometriosis? Let’s examine this sometimes painful condition and how doctors diagnose and treat it.

The Signs of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common condition that can be quite painful. Endometriosis is caused when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other places within your abdomen and pelvic area. A family history of endometriosis may increase your risk.1

The endometrial-like tissue can grow on other organs or structures, including the outside and back of your uterus, your fallopian tubes, your ovaries, vagina, bladder, intestines and rectum.1

This tissue is hormonally sensitive and can become inflamed during your menstrual cycle; it can also develop into ovarian cysts, nodules, scar tissue or adhesions that connect your organs and bind them together.1

Common symptoms of endometriosis include:1

  • heavy bleeding during periods
  • spotting or light bleeding between periods
  • extremely painful menstrual cramps
  • abdominal pain or back pain during your period or in between periods
  • pain during sex
  • infertility

Because these symptoms can be signs of other pelvic health issues, it raises the questions about diagnosing endometriosis.

How Do They Check For Endometriosis

While surgery is the only absolute way to find out if you have endometriosis, there are other techniques doctors can use to diagnose this condition:

1. Pelvic exam: Your doctor will manually feel areas in your pelvis to check for abnormalities, such as cysts on your reproductive organs or scars behind your uterus. But small areas of endometriosis may not be found unless they’ve caused a cyst to form.2

2. Ultrasound: This test captures images of the inside of your body. The ultrasound device is either pressed against your abdomen or inserted into your vagina. Ultrasounds are done to get a view of your reproductive organs, but won’t definitively tell your doctor whether you have endometriosis. However, an ultrasound may find cysts associated with endometriosis.2

3. Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI: This exam can provide detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body. It may help a doctor plan surgery by showing information about the location and size of endometrial growths.2

4. Surgery, most commonly laparoscopy: This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis. After making a small cut in the abdomen, the surgeon uses a small viewing instrument called a laparoscope, to look for endometriosis. Sometimes a tissue sample is taken to confirm the diagnosis.3

Researchers are looking into other, less invasive ways to diagnose endometriosis and determine its severity. For instance, researchers in the National Centers for Translational Research in Reproduction and Infertility created a “diagnostic classifier” for endometriosis based on the presence of particular genes. 

They found that this classifier was 90% to 100% accurate. Once this process is validated, a simple biopsy in your doctor’s office may be a nonsurgical way to diagnose endometriosis in many women.3

Treatment for Endometriosis

If your doctor has diagnosed endometriosis, your treatment plan will vary based on several factors. That includes how severe your symptoms are, how much they are affecting your quality of life, and whether you hope to become pregnant. Pain medication, hormone therapy, conservative surgery, or a hysterectomy are all possibilities.2

And new work is being done on treatment for specific types of endometriosis. A procedure called cryoablation is being tried for women with abdominal wall endometriosis (AWE). Cryoablation for AWE is minimally invasive, and causes endometriosis cells to die due to the cold temperatures caused by the process.4 

Seek Diagnosis

If you suspect you have endometriosis, or you have someone in your family who has this condition, use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. A proper diagnosis can lead to an effective treatment plan for endometriosis. Remember to share your family history with your healthcare provider.