What Type of Doctor Should You See for Endometriosis?
Battling endometriosis can require an entire team of healthcare experts, along with friends and family, to ensure you're getting the care and support that you need. Your medical care team may include a wide variety of specialists, ranging from obstetric and gynecological experts, to mental health professionals, and everything in between. In some cases, your journey may begin with your family doctor or general practitioner. If you disclose symptoms of pelvic pain, abnormal menstrual bleeding, period pain, or pain during sex, they may recommend you see a women's health expert. Similarly, if you report gastrointestinal difficulties to your family doctor, including bowel or bladder problems, they may send you to a gastroenterologist for further investigation.
Receiving a diagnosis of endometriosis may require many visits to multiple specialists in an effort to tie together all pieces of the puzzle. Once a diagnosis is received, the whole team may still need to be involved to address all aspects of care and provide you with relief from varying symptoms. Some common specialists that may be on your endometriosis healthcare team include, but are not limited to, the following.
The title OB-GYN is short for obstetrician-gynecologist. These physicians specialize in treating women and female reproductive system-related issues. Some of these include abnormal menstruation, menopause, childbirth and prenatal care, female genital conditions, sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract or vaginal infections, endometriosis, breast conditions, hormonal conditions, cancers of the female reproductive system (including the breasts), infertility, and more. OB-GYNs are also the physicians an individual would see for an annual pelvic examination, mammogram, or pap smear. Some OB-GYNs are surgeons while others may specialize in fertility and/or fetal care. An OB-GYN can help diagnose and treat endometriosis as well as many of its related symptoms.1
Reproductive endocrinologists are physicians who specialize in fertility and conditions that impact fertility. These experts may also help determine why a woman is having a hard time becoming pregnant (infertility). They may also help a woman to achieve pregnancy by using assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. Reproductive endocrinology is a sub-specialty field within the broader field of obstetrics and gynecology. In addition to female fertility issues, these experts also specialize in male factor infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, abnormal development of the uterus, and other conditions related to the female reproductive system.2
Gastroenterologists are physicians who specialize in treating conditions related to the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system). Specifically, they focus on the stomach, esophagus, intestines, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, and other organs of the digestive tract. Although they don't necessarily specialize in women's health, these physicians can often help manage gastrointestinal-related symptoms that can accompany endometriosis. For example, if endometriosis occurs in the bowel or within the space between the rectum and the vagina, an individual may experience difficulties going to the bathroom, including diarrhea, constipation, straining while having a bowel movement, cramping, and more. These physicians may be able to help manage these symptoms.
Additionally, it is possible for bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases, to co-occur with endometriosis. A gastroenterologist may be able to determine whether the symptoms you're experiencing are due to your endometriosis or another underlying condition.3
Pain management specialist
One, or more, of your providers may refer you to a pain management specialist if your chronic pain is severe and is not adequately managed after treatment. Pain management specialists are dedicated to relieving pain for those who need it. Pain management recommendations can vary based on the specialist seen, what your pain history is, the severity of your pain, and what the underlying condition causing the pain is.4
Mental health professional
Endometriosis and its associated chronic pain, uncomfortable symptoms, and fertility struggles may take a toll on a woman's mental health. In some cases, a woman's sexual health may be greatly impacted by pelvic pain or other endometriosis-related issues. This can impact a woman's intimate relationships, as well as her self-perception and self-esteem. It is not uncommon for women with endometriosis to experience mental distress, especially anxiety or depression. What's important however, is recognizing signs of mental health issues and seeking additional support. This kind of support and help can come in the form of a variety of different mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors.
Additionally, mental health therapy does not only have to be utilized when a person has reached the point of distress. Practicing positive mental health-related behaviors, such as joining a support group, may help nourish a woman's mental health throughout all points of her journey with endometriosis.