Approximately one in ten women of childbearing age will experience endometriosis. The condition occurs when the endometrial tissue lining the uterus spreads to other areas including the peritoneum, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, bladder, ureters, intestines, rectum and pelvic cavity area behind the uterus.
The cause of endometriosis is not clear but the condition does run in families. Estrogen appears to promote the growth of endometriosis and it is believed the endometrial tissue may spread to other areas of the body through the blood or lymph systems. Another theory is that the tissue backs up into the fallopian tubes during a woman’s monthly period.
Risk factors for endometriosis include being overweight, not having children, having menstrual periods that last longer than seven days or a menstrual cycle 27 days or fewer in length.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Not every woman with endometriosis experiences symptoms. When symptoms are present, chronic pain is the most common. Pain often worsens immediately before and after the menstrual period. Other symptoms of endometriosis depend on where the tissue has spread. Endometrial tissue on the bowel can cause painful bowel movements. If the condition involves the bladder, individuals may experience painful urination.
Symptoms of endometriosis often subside during pregnancy and may decrease following menopause unless hormonal therapy is initiated.
A definitive diagnosis of endometriosis is made by performing a biopsy obtained at the time of a surgical laparoscopy.
Treatment of Endometriosis
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are a variety of treatments. The best treatment for your endometriosis will be determined by your gynecologist and is usually based on the severity of the condition, symptoms and whether or not you wish to have more children.
Treatment options include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen
- Pain relievers
- Progestin-only hormone therapy
- Birth control pills
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists
- Surgery to remove endometriosis implants or hysterectomy
Oral medications can reduce discomfort and limit the growth of new endometrial tissue, but they cannot prevent endometrial tissue from forming.