Frequently Asked Questions About Endometriosis
Endometriosis affects millions of women in the United States. The condition can be very painful, especially during your period. Still, many women live for years not knowing they have it. They may think the pain is just part of menstruation. (It's not.) What else should women know about this condition? Start with these common questions:
Endometriosis occurs when the tissues that line the uterus (endometrial tissue) grow outside of the uterus. Endometriosis can develop anywhere. It’s most often found on the ovaries, the outside of the uterus, and the fallopian tubes. It may also form on the supportive tissues of the uterus.
Any female having periods can get endometriosis. It is more common in women who:
- Are 30 to 50 years old
- Have very short or very long periods (more than seven days)
Have a health problem that stops the flow of menstrual blood, such as uterine fibroids or scar tissue from prior surgery
- Have a family member with endometriosis
- Have never had children
Endometriosis symptoms range in severity. Some women may not experience symptoms, while other women have symptoms that affect their enjoyment of life. Look for the following signs and symptoms:
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Pain in the lower back, intestines, or pelvis
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain with urination and bowel movements
- Bleeding outside of your normal period
- Trouble getting pregnant
- Abdominal discomfort, such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating or nausea
Your doctor can diagnose endometriosis in several ways. She may give you a pelvic exam to feel for scar tissue or cysts outside of your uterus. An imaging test, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), can spot endometrial tissue. Your doctor may also perform a procedure called laparoscopy. This lets the doctor remove and examine endometrial tissue.
Many women with endometriosis are able to get pregnant. However, endometriosis can make it more difficult to get pregnant. About half of all women who struggle with infertility have endometriosis. In some cases, endometrial tissue can make it difficult for the sperm and egg to meet. Surgery to remove the endometrial tissue may make it easier to get pregnant.
Medications can manage endometriosis. Women who don’t want to get pregnant may try a hormone birth control. These include birth control medications by pill or injection, or an intrauterine device (IUD). These can slow or stop endometrial growth. Women who want to get pregnant may take a medication called a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist. This drug temporarily stops the production of hormones that trigger ovulation and menstruation, and stops the growth of endometrial tissue. After a course of the medication, your menstrual cycle resumes. Then, you may be more likely to get pregnant.
Your doctor may remove the endometriosis tissue with surgery if you have severe pain or infertility. Sometimes, endometriosis symptoms ease after menopause.
Lifestyle changes cannot stop the growth of endometrial tissue. But they can help to alleviate pain and other symptoms. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain. A heating pad or soaking in a warm bath can also ease pain and cramping. Sometimes exercising regularly eases symptoms.
Women with endometriosis are slightly more likely to develop ovarian cancer and breast cancer compared to women who do not have endometrosis. The main complication of endometriosis is infertility. Endometriosis also is linked to other health conditions. They include autoimmune diseases (such as lupus), fibromyalgia, allergies and asthma.