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14 Conditions Endometriosis Is Mistaken for the Most

This painful disease hits 1 in 10 women—yet it's tough to diagnose because it shares symptoms with so many other conditions.

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Gastrointestinal issues

Disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, and diverticulosis may trigger symptoms similar to those from endometeriosis—abdominal bloating, alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation, and painful bowel movements. "Since endometriosis may implant on the intestines and cause irritation, women with this disorder may have symptoms that are similar," says Dr. Styer. For this reason, it can be difficult to differentiate between endometriosis and gastrointestinal disorders.

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Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Most women know the symptoms of a UTI—pain during urination or sex. That's why women with endometriosis are often given treatment for UTIs, explains Dr. Rapisarda. "A simple test for infection will show whether a UTI is present and antibiotics are necessary," he says. "If symptoms persist, but an infection is not present, further testing and analysis should be done by a medical professional."

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Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

This inflammation results from an infection of the reproductive tract—typically the uterine lining, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and pelvic peritoneum, explains Dr. Sinervo. "Though PID may spread silently, it can also be extremely painful and be accompanied by symptoms such as pelvic or lower abdominal pain of varying severity, intermenstrual bleeding, painful sex or painful urination—also common to endometriosis," he says. "Unlike endometriosis, however, which is not an infection, PID is generally diagnosed through exams and cultures and routinely treated through administration of medication." Here are 13 medical reasons for your lower abdominal pain.

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Sciatica

The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back down each leg, and when inflammation in your lower back pain presses on the nerve, the sensations can travel to the pelvis and the legs. Though sciatica is nothing like endometriosis, its pain symptoms in the back, buttocks, and legs can lead to confusion for patients and their docs. "With endometriosis, tissue can grow on nerves in the pelvis, causing back and leg pain that can be confused with sciatica," explains Dr. Rapisarda. "An X-ray or MRI is typically required to help determine whether anything along the spine is causing pain, which will allow a physician to better assess the cause." Here are signs that your back pain is caused by sciatica.

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Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Endometriosis and PCOS have a lot of overlap in the symptom department—in addition to the fact that both conditions tend to go undiagnosed for years. "Women with PCOS may have intermittent pelvic pain associated with the rupture of a cyst; they may get abnormal bleeding and cramping from excessive buildup of the uterine lining due to infrequent or absent ovulation," explains Dr. Rapisarda. "A diagnosis of PCOS is based on the results of a physical exam, ultrasound and blood tests." Here's what every woman should know about PCOS.

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Pelvic floor dysfunction

Also known as PFD, this common condition can turn up in endometriosis patients—though not all patients with PFD have endometriosis. The muscles of the pelvic floor don't do their job—the reason may be an injury or difficult childbirth, though the cause isn't always clear. The main symptoms can be urinary or bowel troubles (incontinence or difficulty going), though there are other symptoms similar to pelvic endometriosis, says Dr. Sinervo. "Effective treatment can be obtained under the care of a specially trained physical therapist; many patients with endometriosis are recommended for PT post-operatively to address this secondary source of pain after the disease is removed."

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Ectopic pregnancy

Approximately one in every 50 pregnancies in the United States is what's known as an ectopic pregnancy—the egg implants outside the uterus. "Symptoms include acute (sudden) sharp or stabbing type pain in the pelvis—or even in the shoulder due to blood on the diaphragm from a ruptured ectopic—GI pain or symptoms, and vaginal bleeding," says Dr. Sinervo. "Blood tests and ultrasound are used to diagnose an ectopic, unlike endometriosis, and medications or surgery may be used to resolve the condition." He does note, however, that endometriosis may be a risk factor for ectopic pregnancy, along with infections, scarring, or defects in one or both tubes. Experts say you can safely ignore these pregnancy myths.

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