Key Points about Endometriosis
- Endometriosis is a condition of the female reproductive organs that can be extremely painful and lead to difficulties getting pregnant.
- Diagnosis of endometriosis typically involves imaging tests, pelvic exam and/or laparoscopy.
- Treatment for endometriosis usually includes pain medication and surgery.
Endometriosis is a condition that causes tissue similar to the tissue that grows inside of the uterus – called endometrium – to grown outside your uterus. Because it occurs in the female reproductive organs, this condition only affects women. Endometriosis can be a painful condition and can lead to problems with fertility.
Experts don’t yet know the exact cause of endometriosis, but they believe that these situations may play a role:
- Embryonic cell transformation. In this phenomenon, the hormone estrogen transforms cells in the early stages of development into endometrial-like cells during puberty.
- Immune system condition. Having an autoimmune condition can cause the body to not correctly identify and destroy endometrial-like tissue growing outside of the uterus.
- Retrograde menstruation. This occurs when menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes, instead of out of the body.
- Surgical scars. If you’ve undergone a hysterectomy or C-section, endometrial cells can attach to a surgical incision.
- Transformation of peritoneal cells. In this process, the peritoneal cells that line that inner side of the abdomen transforms into endometrial-like cells.
Endometriosis risk factors
Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing endometriosis include:
- Having a family history of endometriosis
- Having a low body mass index (BMI)
- Having abnormalities of the reproductive system
- Having heavy periods lasting longer than seven days
- Having short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- Not having given birth
- Starting menopause at an older age
- Starting your menstrual cycle at an early age
Signs and symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Bleeding between periods (intermenstrual bleeding)
- Heavy, painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain while urinating or having a bowel movement (especially during your period)
- Pelvic pain
Your specialist will use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to check for endometriosis:
- Pelvic exam. In this test, your specialist uses their hands to feel your pelvis for abnormalities, such as abnormalities or scars.
- Imaging tests. Your specialist may recommend you undergo imaging tests – such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to obtain detailed images of the inside of your reproductive organs.
- Laparoscopy. You will be under general anesthesia (fully asleep) for this procedure. The specialist will make a small incision near your belly button and insert a thin, flexible viewing instrument – called a laparoscope – to check for visible signs of endometriosis or other abnormalities.
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatments for endometriosis:
- Pain medication. Your specialist may recommend you take over-the-counter pain medication – such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) – to help you manage your pain.
- Hormone therapy. Your specialist may prescribe hormone therapy to help slow the growth of endometrial tissue and prevent new areas of endometrial tissue.
- Surgery. If you are trying to become pregnant or you are experiencing severe pain, you may need to undergo surgery to remove the endometriosis cell implants.
- Fertility treatment. If endometriosis has caused problems getting pregnant, you may need to see a fertility specialist for specialized treatment.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a women’s health provider for more specialized treatment.