The tissue that lines the uterus is
called the endometrium. Normally, if a woman doesn’t get pregnant, this tissue is shed
each month during her period. In endometriosis, tissue that looks and acts like
endometrial tissue implants outside the uterus. Each month, this misplaced tissue
responds to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. It builds up, breaks down, and
bleeds. But, the blood has nowhere to go. This causes surrounding tissue to become
inflamed or swollen. It can also cause scar tissue, chronic pain, and heavy periods.
Endometriosis is a main cause of
infertility in women. This can happen if the tissue implants in the ovaries or fallopian
tubes. Tissue can also implant on other organs in the pelvis.
The cause of endometriosis is not clear. It may be that during a woman’s period, some of the tissue backs up through the fallopian tubes into the belly. Another theory suggests genes are to blame. Current research is also looking at the role of the immune system.
Any woman may develop
endometriosis, but the following women seem to be at an increased risk for the
Each woman may experience symptoms
differently, but these are the most common symptoms:
The amount of pain a woman has isn’t always related to the severity of the disease. Some women with severe disease may have no pain. Other women with a milder form of the disease may have severe pain or other symptoms.
First, your healthcare provider
will review your health history. You will also have a physical exam and a pelvic
A laparoscopy is done to diagnose endometriosis. This uses a thin tube with a lens and a light at the end. It’s inserted into an incision in the abdominal wall to see into the pelvic area. The healthcare provider can often find the locations, extent, and size of the misplaced tissue.
Other tests may include:
Your healthcare provider will consider your age, overall health, symptoms and other factors when advising what treatment is best for you. Whether you hope to become pregnant will also play a role in your choices.
Treatment choices include medicine, surgery, or both. If symptoms are mild, you may only need pain medicine. In other cases, hormone-based medicine, such as birth control pills, will stop ovulation and slow endometriosis.
Several choices can be used to remove the implants. Healthcare providers may be able to remove abnormal tissue growths using a laparoscope. In other cases, open surgery is needed. Surgery to remove the uterus is also a choice.
Endometriosis can make it very hard or impossible for a woman to get pregnant. Sometimes surgery can help. But, in a few cases, women may remain infertile.
Simple steps that can help ease the pain of endometriosis include:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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