Many women mistake the symptoms of endometriosis for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Endometriosis is a very common condition of the reproductive system; it affects one in ten women of reproductive age. It occurs when cells lining the uterus (called the endometrium), grow outside of the uterus and make their way onto other organs or tissues. The most common sites are the fallopian tubes, ovaries or on the outside of the uterus. However, endometrial tissue can also grow on the abdominal organs, such as the bladder, small or large intestine.

If that’s the case, endometriosis can cause digestive symptoms that are typical of irritable bowel syndrome. These include abdominal bloating, abdominal cramps, constipation, diarrhea or alternating bowel habits. Many women never see their doctor about these symptoms; therefore the real cause is never determined. Endometriosis usually also causes painful menstrual cramps and heavy menstrual bleeding but for some women those symptoms are fairly mild compared to the digestive symptoms mentioned above.

New research has shown that a low FODMAP diet can offer symptom relief for women with digestive problems caused by endometriosis. FODMAPs are fermentable fibers found in some vegetables, fruits, legumes and dairy products. In some people FODMAPs can cause irritable bowel syndrome. Examples of foods high in FODMAPs are legumes, broccoli and onion.

A low FODMAP diet can be very helpful for reducing digestive discomfort, but it should be used for short term intervention only. It is important to have any digestive symptoms properly investigated, diagnosed and managed. It is not ideal to follow a restrictive diet long term.