Endometriosis

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Overview

Endometriosis is a noncancerous condition in which tissue similar to the endometrium (uterine lining) grows outside your uterus and adheres to other structures, most commonly in the pelvis, such as on the ovaries, bowel, fallopian tubes or bladder. Rarely it implants in other places, such as the liver, lungs, diaphragmand surgical sites.

Endometriosis (en-doe-me-tree-O-sis) is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs.

With endometriosis, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would — it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped. When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions — abnormal bands of fibrous tissue that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other.

Endometriosis can cause pain — sometimes severe — especially during your period. Fertility problems also may develop. Fortunately, effective treatments are available. It is a common cause of pelvic pain and infertility. It affects about 5 million women in the United States. Historically thought of as a disease that affects adult women, endometriosis is increasingly being diagnosed in adolescents, as well.

The most common symptoms are painful menstrual periods and/or chronic pelvic pain.

Others include:

  • Diarrhea and painful bowel movements, especially during menstruation
  • Intestinal pain
  • Painful intercourse
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Backache
  • Severe menstrual cramps
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Painful urination
  • Pain in the pelvic region with exercise
  • Painful pelvic examinations
  • Infertility

It is important to understand that other conditions aside from endometriosis can cause any or all of these symptoms and other causes may need to be ruled out. These include, but are not limited to, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, pelvic adhesions (scar tissue), ovarian masses, uterine abnormalities, fibromyalgia, malabsorption syndromes and, very rarely, malignancies.

When endometriosis tissue grows outside of the uterus, it continues to respond to hormonal signals—specifically estrogen—from the ovaries telling it to grow. Estrogen is the hormone that causes your uterine lining to thicken each month. When estrogen levels drop, the lining is expelled from the uterus, resulting in menstrual flow (you get your period). But unlike the tissue lining the uterus, which leaves your body during menstruation, endometriosis tissue is essentially trapped.

With no place to go, the tissue bleeds internally. Your body reacts to the internal bleeding with inflammation, a process that can lead to the formation of scar tissue, also called adhesions. This inflammation and the resulting scar tissue may cause pain and other symptoms. Recent research also finds that this misplaced endometrial tissue may develop its own blood supply to help it proliferate and nerve supply to communicate with the brain, one reason for the condition’s severe pain and the other chronic pain conditions so many women with endometriosis suffer from.

The type and intensity of symptoms range from completely disabling to mild. Sometimes, there aren’t any symptoms at all, particularly in women with so-called “unexplained infertility.”

If your endometriosis results in scarring of the reproductive organs, it may affect your ability to get pregnant. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis are infertile. Even mild endometriosis can result in infertility.

Researchers don’t know what causes endometriosis, but many theories exist. One suggests that retrograde menstruation—or “reverse menstruation”—may be the main cause. In this condition, menstrual blood doesn’t flow out of the cervix (the opening of the uterus to the vagina), but, instead, is pushed backward out of the uterus through the fallopian tubes into the pelvic cavity.

But because most women experience some amount of retrograde menstruationwithout developing endometriosis, researchers believe something else may contribute to its development.

For example, endometriosis could be an immune system problem or local hormonal imbalance that enables the endometrial tissue to take root and grow after it is pushed out of the uterus.

Other researchers believe that in some women, certain abdominal cells mistakenly turn into endometrial cells. These same cells are the ones responsible for the growth of a woman’s reproductive organs in the embryonic stage. It’s believed that something in the woman’s genetic makeup or something she’s exposed to in the environment in later life changes those cells so they turn into endometrial tissue outside the uterus. There’s also some thinking that damage to cells that line the pelvis from a previous infection can lead to endometriosis.

Some studies show that environmental factors may play a role in the development of endometriosis. Toxins in the environment such as dioxin seem to affect reproductivehormones and immune system responses, but this theory has not been proven and is controversial in the medical community.

Other researchers believe the endometrium itself is abnormal, which allows the tissue to break away and attach elsewhere in the body.

Endometriosis may have a genetic link, with studies finding an increase in risk if your mother or sister had the disorder. No specific genetic mutation has been clearly linked with the disease.

Diagnosis

Gynecologists and reproductive endocrinologists, gynecologists who specialize in infertility and hormonal conditions, have the most experience in evaluating and treating endometriosis.

The condition can be very difficult to diagnose, however, because symptoms vary so widely and may be caused by other conditions.

Among the ways doctors diagnose the disease are:

Laparoscopy. Currently, laparoscopy is the gold standard for the diagnosis of endometriosis and is commonly used for both diagnosis and treatment. Performed under general anesthesia, the surgeon inserts a miniature telescope called a laparoscope through a small incision in the navel to view the location, size and extent of abnormalities (such as adhesions) in the pelvic region.

Medical management is usually tried first. But to be certain you have endometriosis, your doctor may refer you to a surgeon to look inside your abdomen for signs of endometriosis using a surgical procedure called laparoscopy.

While you’re under general anesthesia, your surgeon makes a tiny incision near your navel and inserts a slender viewing instrument (laparoscope), looking for endometrial tissue outside the uterus. He or she may take samples of tissue (biopsy). Laparoscopy can provide information about the location, extent and size of the endometrial implants to help determine the best treatment options.

However, merely looking through the laparoscope can’t diagnose deep endometriosis disease, in which the endometrial tissue is hidden inside adhesions or underneath the lining of the abdominal cavity. More extensive dissection is needed to diagnose and treat this type of disease.

Many women have a combination of both deep and superficial (in which the endometrial tissue can be easily seen) endometrial disease.

Peritoneal tissue biopsy. During the laparoscopy, the doctor may remove a tiny piece of peritoneal tissue (the inner layer of the lining of the abdominal cavity) or other suspicious areas to help establish the diagnosis of endometriosis. This is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which notes that only an experienced surgeon familiar with the appearance of endometriosis should rely on visual inspection alone to make the diagnosis. A biopsy, however, is not mandatory to diagnose endometriosis, and a negative biopsy does not rule out the presence of this disease in other areas within the abdomen.

Ultrasonography, MRI and CT scan. An ultrasound uses sound waves to visualize the inside of your pelvic region, while an MRI uses magnets and a CT scan uses radiation. While these tests can occasionally suggest endometriosis, particularly ovarian endometriotic cysts called “endometrioma,” or rule out other conditions, none can definitively confirm the condition.

At this point, there is no established noninvasive method to diagnosis endometriosis, which is frustrating for both women and their health care providers.

Ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. To capture the images, a device called a transducer is either pressed against your abdomen or inserted into your vagina (transvaginal ultrasound). Both types of ultrasound may be done to get the best view of your reproductive organs. Ultrasound imaging won’t definitively tell your doctor whether you have endometriosis, but it can identify cysts associated with endometriosis (endometriomas).

Pelvic exam. Your doctor will perform a physical examination, including a pelvic exam, to aid in the evaluation. The examination will not diagnose endometriosis but may allow your doctor to feel nodules, areas of tenderness or masses on the ovaries that may suggest endometriosis. During a pelvic exam, your doctor manually feels (palpates) areas in your pelvis for abnormalities, such as cysts on your reproductive organs or scars behind your uterus. Often it’s not possible to feel small areas of endometriosis, unless they’ve caused a cyst to form.

Medical history. A detailed medical history may offer your health care professional the earliest clues in making the correct diagnosis.

Treatment

There is no universal cure for endometriosis. However, there are a number of options available for treating and managing the disease after diagnosis. They fall into four categories: medical, surgical, alternative treatments and pregnancy.

Medical

The most common medical therapies for endometriosis are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), hormonal contraceptives (in oral, patch, and intrauterine or injectable applications) and other hormonal regimens, such as GnRH agonists (gonadotropin-releasing hormone drugs).

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). These drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, are often the first step in controlling endometriosis-related symptoms. They may be used long-term in a non-pregnant patient to manage symptoms, in part because they are effective at reducing implantation, are cheaper and easier to use than other options and have fewer side effects than hormonal treatments. However, some patients may experience severe gastrointestinal upset from these agents, particularly if they are administered for prolonged periods and at high doses. They are more effective when taken before pain starts.
  • Contraceptive hormones (birth control pills). This option also costs less and has fewer side effects than other hormonal treatment options and may be recommended soon after diagnosis. Birth control pills stop ovulation, thus suppressing the effects of estrogen on endometrial tissue. In most cases, women taking hormonal contraceptives have a lighter and shorter period than they did before taking them. Often physicians will recommend using birth control pills continuously as opposed to cyclically to eliminate regular menstrual flow, which can be the cause of increased pain in some women with endometriosis.
  • Medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera). This injectable drug, usually used as birth control, effectively halts menstruation and the growth of endometrial tissue, relieving the signs and symptoms of endometriosis. Side effects include weight gain, depressed mood and abnormal uterine bleeding (breakthrough bleeding and spotting), as well as a prolonged delay in returning to regular menstrual cycles, which can be of concern to women who want to conceive.
  • Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone Drugs (GnRH agonists). These drugs block the production of ovarian-stimulating hormones, which prevents menstruation and lowers estrogen levels, thus causing endometrial implants to shrink. GnRH agonists usually lead to endometriosis remission during treatment and sometimes for months or years afterward. However, GnRH agonists have side effects, including menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and reversible loss of bone density. Add-back hormone therapy, which typically consists of a synthetic progesterone (progestin) administered alone or in combination with a low-dose estrogen, is typically prescribed along with GnRH agonists to alleviate these side effects.
  • Danazol. This reproductive hormone is a synthetic form of a male hormone (androgen) and is available as Danocrine. It is used to treat endometriosis and works by directly suppressing endometrial tissue and suppressing ovarian hormone production. A woman taking danazol will typically not ovulate or get regular periods. Side effects may include weight gain, hair growth and acne, among others. Some of the side effects are reversible. Danazol is typically given for six to nine months at a time. Danazol is not a contraceptive agent, and it is critical that any woman taking this drug also use a barrier contraceptive (condoms, diaphragm, IUD) if she is sexually active.
  • Progestin-containing intrauterine device. Several studies have shown that an intrauterine device (IUD) containing a synthetic type of progesterone (progestin) can also reduce the painful symptoms and extent of disease associated with endometriosis. If effective, the IUD can be left in the uterus for three to five years and can be removed if a woman wants to conceive. There are currently three FDA-approved brands—Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta—and each has different characteristics; Mirena can be left in place the longest. It should not be used in women with multiple sexual partners, those with an abnormal uterus (fibroids) or those with prior sexually transmitted disease. Side effects include cramping and breakthrough bleeding.
  • Aromatase inhibitors. This class of drugs inhibits the actions of one of the enzymes that forms estrogen in the body and can block the growth of endometriosis. It is important to understand that this class of drugs is not approved for use in the treatment of endometriosis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; it is under investigation. Side effects include hot flushes, bone loss and the potential for increased risk of birth defects if a woman conceives while taking these medications and remains on them. Their use should be limited to women participating in research trials or after obtaining written consent from a physician who is thoroughly familiar with this class of drugs.

Surgical

The goal of any surgical procedure should be to remove endometriotic tissue and scar tissue. Hormonal therapies may be prescribed together with the more conservative surgical procedures.Surgical treatments range from removing the endometrial tissues via laparoscopy to removing the uterus, called a hysterectomy, often with the ovaries (called an oophorectomy). Surgery classified as “conservative” removes the endometrial growths, adhesions and scar tissue associated with endometriosis without removing any organs. Conservative surgery may be done with a laparoscope or, if necessary, through an abdominal incision.

  • Laparoscopy. During a laparoscopy, an outpatient surgery also referred to as “belly-button surgery,” the surgeon views the inside of the abdomen through a tiny lighted telescope inserted through one or more small incisions in the abdomen. From there, the surgeon may destroy endometrial tissue with electrical, ultrasound-generated or laser energy or by cutting it out. There is a risk of scar tissue, which could lead to infertility, making pain worse, or damaging other pelvic structures. Surgery to remove endometriosis involving the ureters and bowel can be especially complex and requires a high degree of surgical skill.
  • Laparotomy. A laparotomy is similar to a laparoscopy but is more extensive, involving a full abdominal incision and a longer recovery period.
  • Hysterectomy. During a hysterectomy, your uterus is removed. This leaves you infertile. Hysterectomy alone may not eliminate all endometrial tissue, however, because it can’t remove tissue outside of the uterus or ovaries. Additionally, surgery to remove the uterus may not relieve the pain associated with endometriosis.
  • Oophorectomy. Removing the ovaries with the uterus improves the likelihood of successful treatment with hysterectomy because the ovaries secrete estrogen, which can stimulate growth of endometriosis. It also renders you infertile, however.

If you wish to preserve your fertility, discuss other treatment options with your health care professional and consider seeking a second opinion.

There has only been one comparative study of medical and surgical therapies to see which approach is better. This trial demonstrated improved outcomes with GnRH agonist and add-back therapy alone or after surgery in comparison to surgery alone. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Often, your plan of care will be a combination of treatments with medical therapy recommended either before or after surgery.

  1. Alternative treatments. Alternative treatments for relieving the painful symptoms of endometriosis include traditional Chinese medicine, nutritional approaches, exercise, yoga, homeopathy, acupuncture, allergy management and immune therapy.While some health care professionals may tell you these alternative paths to seeking pain relief from endometriosis are a waste of time, others may encourage you to try alternative methods of pain relief as long as they are not harmful to your condition. Either way, discuss any options you want to try with your health care professional. Also keep in mind that while these options may help relieve the pain of endometriosis, they won’t cure the condition. Few if any alternative treatments have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation.
  2. Pregnancy. While it can’t be considered a “treatment” for endometriosis, pregnancy may relieve endometriosis-related pain, an improvement that may continue after the pregnancy ends.Health care professionals attribute this pregnancy-related relief to the hormonal changes of pregnancy. For example, ovulation and menstruation stop during pregnancy, and it’s menstruation that triggers the pain of endometriosis.Plus, endometrial tissue typically becomes less active during pregnancy and may not be as painful or large without hormonal stimulation. However, in many cases, once the pregnancy and breastfeeding end and menstruation returns, symptoms also return.

If endometriosis has caused infertility, you have several treatment options, including surgery, drugs to stimulate ovulation, typically administered with intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. The appropriate approach would be based on the results of a complete evaluation including an assessment of the male partner. In general, medicines that suppress the painful symptoms of endometriosis, such as GnRH agonists, oral contraceptives and danazol, do not improve the likelihood of pregnancy. The only possible exception would be that the use of a course of GnRH agonists before in vitro fertilization may improve outcomes in certain endometriosis patients, according to several recent studies.

Symptoms

The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, often associated with your menstrual period. Although many women experience cramping during their menstrual period, women with endometriosis typically describe menstrual pain that’s far worse than usual. They also tend to report that the pain increases over time.

Common signs and symptoms of endometriosis may include:

  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Pelvic pain and cramping may begin before your period and extend several days into your period. You may also have lower back and abdominal pain.
  • Pain with intercourse. Pain during or after sex is common with endometriosis.
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination. You’re most likely to experience these symptoms during your period.
  • Excessive bleeding. You may experience occasional heavy periods (menorrhagia) or bleeding between periods (menometrorrhagia).
  • Infertility. Endometriosis is first diagnosed in some women who are seeking treatment for infertility.
  • Other symptoms. You may also experience fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods.

The severity of your pain isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of the extent of the condition. Some women with mild endometriosis have intense pain, while others with advanced endometriosis may have little pain or even no pain at all.

Endometriosis is sometimes mistaken for other conditions that can cause pelvic pain, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or ovarian cysts. It may be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes bouts of diarrhea, constipation and abdominal cramping. IBS can accompany endometriosis, which can complicate the diagnosis.

Causes

Although the exact cause of endometriosis is not certain, possible explanations include:

  • Retrograde menstruation. In retrograde menstruation, menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. These displaced endometrial cells stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs, where they grow and continue to thicken and bleed over the course of each menstrual cycle.
  • Transformation of peritoneal cells. In what’s known as the “induction theory,” experts propose that hormones or immune factors promote transformation of peritoneal cells — cells that line the inner side of your abdomen — into endometrial cells.
  • Embryonic cell transformation. Hormones such as estrogen may transform embryonic cells — cells in the earliest stages of development — into endometrial cell implants during puberty.
  • Surgical scar implantation. After a surgery, such as a hysterectomy or C-section, endometrial cells may attach to a surgical incision.
  • Endometrial cells transport. The blood vessels or tissue fluid (lymphatic) system may transport endometrial cells to other parts of the body.
  • Immune system disorder. It’s possible that a problem with the immune system may make the body unable to recognize and destroy endometrial tissue that’s growing outside the uterus.

Risk factors

Several factors place you at greater risk of developing endometriosis, such as:

  • Never giving birth
  • Starting your period at an early age
  • Going through menopause at an older age
  • Short menstrual cycles — for instance, less than 27 days
  • Having higher levels of estrogen in your body or a greater lifetime exposure to estrogen your body produces
  • Low body mass index
  • Alcohol consumption
  • One or more relatives (mother, aunt or sister) with endometriosis
  • Any medical condition that prevents the normal passage of menstrual flow out of the body
  • Uterine abnormalities

Endometriosis usually develops several years after the onset of menstruation (menarche). Signs and symptoms of endometriosis end temporarily with pregnancy and end permanently with menopause, unless you’re taking estrogen.

Complications

Fertilization and implantation

Infertility

The main complication of endometriosis is impaired fertility. Approximately one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant.

For pregnancy to occur, an egg must be released from an ovary, travel through the neighboring fallopian tube, become fertilized by a sperm cell and attach itself to the uterine wall to begin development. Endometriosis may obstruct the tube and keep the egg and sperm from uniting. But the condition also seems to affect fertility in less-direct ways, such as damage to the sperm or egg.

Even so, many women with mild to moderate endometriosis can still conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. Doctors sometimes advise women with endometriosis not to delay having children because the condition may worsen with time.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer does occur at higher than expected rates in women with endometriosis. But the overall lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is low to begin with. Some studies suggest that endometriosis increases that risk, but it’s still relatively low. Although rare, another type of cancer — endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma — can develop later in life in women who have had endometriosis.

Hormone therapy

Supplemental hormones are sometimes effective in reducing or eliminating the pain of endometriosis. The rise and fall of hormones during the menstrual cycle causes endometrial implants to thicken, break down and bleed. Hormone medication may slow endometrial tissue growth and prevent new implants of endometrial tissue.

Hormone therapy isn’t a permanent fix for endometriosis. You could experience a return of your symptoms after stopping treatment.

Therapies used to treat endometriosis include:

  • Hormonal contraceptives. Birth control pills, patches and vaginal rings help control the hormones responsible for the buildup of endometrial tissue each month. Most women have lighter and shorter menstrual flow when they’re using a hormonal contraceptive. Using hormonal contraceptives — especially continuous cycle regimens — may reduce or eliminate the pain of mild to moderate endometriosis.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists. These drugs block the production of ovarian-stimulating hormones, lowering estrogen levels and preventing menstruation. This causes endometrial tissue to shrink. Because these drugs create an artificial menopause, taking a low dose of estrogen or progestin along with Gn-RH agonists and antagonists may decrease menopausal side effects, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and bone loss. Your periods and the ability to get pregnant return when you stop taking the medication.
  • Progestin therapy. A progestin-only contraceptive, such as an intrauterine device (Mirena), contraceptive implant or contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera), can halt menstrual periods and the growth of endometrial implants, which may relieve endometriosis signs and symptoms.
  • Danazol. This drug suppresses the growth of the endometrium by blocking the production of ovarian-stimulating hormones, preventing menstruation and the symptoms of endometriosis. However, danazol may not be the first choice because it can cause serious side effects and can be harmful to the baby if you become pregnant while taking this medication.

Conservative surgery

If you have endometriosis and are trying to become pregnant, surgery to remove as much endometriosis as possible while preserving your uterus and ovaries (conservative surgery) may increase your chances of success. If you have severe pain from endometriosis, you may also benefit from surgery — however, endometriosis and pain may return.

Your doctor may do this procedure laparoscopically or through traditional abdominal surgery in more extensive cases. In laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon inserts a slender viewing instrument (laparoscope) through a small incision near your navel and inserts instruments to remove endometrial tissue through another small incision.

Hysterectomy

In severe cases of endometriosis, surgery to remove the uterus and cervix (total hysterectomy) as well as both ovaries may be the best treatment. A hysterectomy alone is not effective — the estrogen your ovaries produce can stimulate any remaining endometriosis and cause pain to persist. A hysterectomy is typically considered a last resort, especially for women still in their reproductive years. You can’t get pregnant after a hysterectomy.

Finding a doctor with whom you feel comfortable is crucial in managing and treating endometriosis. You may also want to get a second opinion before starting any treatment to be sure you know all of your options and the possible outcomes.

 

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent endometriosis. However, some health care professionals believe there might be a certain level of protection against the disease if you begin having children early in life and have more than one child.

Additionally, you may prevent or delay the development of endometriosis with an early diagnosis and treatment of any menstrual obstruction, a condition in which a vaginal cyst, vaginal tumor or other growth or lesion prevents endometrial tissue from leaving your body during menstruation.

There also is some evidence that long-term birth control pill users are less likely to develop endometriosis.

Self-management

Coping and support

If you’re dealing with endometriosis or its complications, you may want to consider joining a support group for women with endometriosis or fertility problems. Sometimes it helps simply to talk to other women who can relate to your feelings and experiences. If you can’t find a support group in your community, look for one on the internet.

Lifestyle and home remedies

If your pain persists or if finding a treatment that works takes some time, you can try measures at home to relieve your discomfort.

  • Warm baths and a heating pad can help relax pelvic muscles, reducing cramping and pain.
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others), can help ease painful menstrual cramps.
  • Regular exercise may help improve symptoms.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have symptoms of endometriosis, especially if they’re having a big impact on your life.

It may help to write down your symptoms before seeing your doctor. Endometriosis UK has a pain and symptoms diary (PDF, 238kb) you can use.

It can be difficult to diagnose endometriosis because the symptoms can vary considerably, and many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

If your GP isn’t sure what’s causing your symptoms, they may refer you to a specialist doctor called a gynaecologist for some further tests.

You’ll need to have a laparoscopy to confirm endometriosis. This is where a surgeon passes a thin tube through a small cut in your skin so they can see any patches of endometriosis tissue in your body.

Further problems caused by endometriosis

One of the main complications of endometriosis is difficulty getting pregnant or not being able to get pregnant at all (infertility).

Surgery to remove endometriosis tissue can help improve your chances of getting pregnant, although there’s no guarantee that you will be able to get pregnant after treatment.

Surgery for endometriosis can also sometimes cause further problems, such as infections, bleeding, or damage to affected organs. If surgery is recommended for you, talk to your surgeon about the possible risks.

Read more about the complications of endometriosis.

Facts to Know

  1. Endometriosis is a noncancerous condition that affects about 5 percent of reproductive-age women.
  2. About 5 million women in the United States have been diagnosed with endometriosis.
  3. Endometriosis develops when cells similar to the endometrium—or uterine lining—grow outside the uterus and stick to other structures, most commonly the ovaries, bowel, fallopian tubes or bladder. Endometrial tissue may migrate outside of the pelvic cavity to distant parts of the body. Researchers aren’t sure what causes this condition.
  4. Symptoms of endometriosis can range from mild pain to pain severe enough to interfere with a woman’s ability to lead a normal life. Other symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, cramping, diarrhea and painful bowel movements during menstruation, and painful intercourse. However, you may have the disease and experience none of these symptoms.
  5. A laparoscope is commonly used to diagnose and treat endometriosis. Laparoscopy allows a surgeon to view abnormalities in the pelvic region via a miniature telescope inserted through the abdominal wall, usually through the navel. While this is the best method of diagnosis available, it doesn’t rule out endometriosis just because the doctor doesn’t see any endometrial tissue.
  6. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can temporarily halt the painful symptoms of endometriosis since menstruation stops and estrogen levels drop.
  7. There is no cure for endometriosis. Treatment options include minor and major surgery and medical therapies, including hormonal contraceptives and other hormonal drugs, such as GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonists, that limit the estrogen release that stimulates endometrial tissue growth.
  8. There is some evidence that a family history of endometriosis may contribute to your likelihood of developing this disease. If you have a mother or sister who is battling endometriosis or has been diagnosed with it, your risk of developing the disease is higher than someone with no family history.

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