OB/GYN > About Us > Gynecologic Care > Endometriosis

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition in which the type of tissue that forms the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside the uterus. Endometriosis occurs in about one in ten women of reproductive age. It is most often diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s.

Endometriosis implants respond to changes in estrogen, a female hormone. The implants may grow and bleed like the uterine lining does during the menstrual cycle. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, inflamed and swollen. The breakdown and bleeding of this tissue each month also can cause scar tissue, called adhesions, to form. Sometimes adhesions can cause organs to stick together. The bleeding, inflammation and scarring can cause pain, especially before and during menstruation.

Almost 40 percent of women with infertility have endometriosis. Inflammation from endometriosis may damage the sperm or egg or interfere with their movement through the fallopian tubes and uterus. In severe cases of endometriosis, the fallopian tubes may be blocked by adhesions or scar tissue.

Symptoms

Young adult woman smilingThe most common symptom of endometriosis is chronic pelvic pain, especially just before and during the menstrual period. Pain also may occur during sex. If endometriosis is present on the bowel, pain during bowel movements can occur. If it affects the bladder, pain may be felt during urination. Heavy menstrual bleeding is another symptom of endometriosis. Many women with endometriosis have no symptoms.

Diagnosis

We first may do a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. However, the only way to tell for sure that you have endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. Sometimes a small amount of tissue is removed during the procedure. This is called a biopsy.

Treatment

Treatment for endometriosis depends on the extent of the disease, your symptoms and whether you want to have children. Endometriosis may be treated with medication, surgery or both. When pain is the primary problem, medication usually is tried first.

Medications to treat endometriosis include pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal medications, like birth control pills, progestin-only medications and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists. Hormonal medications help slow the growth of the endometrial tissue and may keep new adhesions from forming. These drugs typically do not get rid of endometriosis tissue that is already there.

Surgery can be done to relieve pain and improve fertility. During surgery, endometriosis implants can be removed. After surgery, most women have relief from pain. However, some women have pain again within two years. The more severe the disease, the more likely it is to return. Taking birth control pills or other medications after surgery may help extend the pain-free period.

If pain is severe and does not go away after treatment, a hysterectomy may be a "last resort" option. There is a small chance that pain will come back even if your uterus and ovaries are removed. This may be due to endometriosis that was not visible or could not be removed at the time of surgery.

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.