Quick Facts: What You Need to Know About Endometriosis

Quick Facts: What You Need to Know About Endometriosis

Medically reviewed by Robyn Faye, MD

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month.

Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects more than 11% of women ages 15-44. HealthyWomen reached out to Robyn Faye, MD, an OB-GYN with Abington Primary Women’s Healthcare Group and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, to get the basic facts.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a pelvic pain condition that occurs when tissue similar to the tissue lining the uterus, known as endometrial tissue, is implanted on the outside of the uterus and creates growths known as endometrial implants. The most common location of endometriosis is the ovaries, but it can also be found anywhere on the body, including the fallopian tubes, behind the uterus, bowel, or bladder, and in the peritoneum, uterosacral ligaments, and sac rectum (known as rectovaginal endometriosis). A small percentage of cases of endometriosis affect the appendix.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include chronic pain; reduced fertility; abnormal periods; painful menstrual cramps, known as dysmenorrheaand painful sex.

You may also experience fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea, especially during menstrual periods.

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

Endometriosis shares symptoms with many other conditions, so it can take some time to get diagnosed. In fact, it usually takes 7-12 years old from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis. In most cases, the symptoms eventually lead to a diagnosis, but around 20%-25% of women may be asymptomatic and are only diagnosed during a pelvic exam or ultrasound. Sometimes a diagnosis is made by vision during a C-section and a definitive diagnosis can be made with a Laparoscopya procedure in which a surgeon uses a small scope to look for endometrial tissue outside the uterus or on the uterus and other pelvic organs.

What are the risk factors for endometriosis?

If you started your period before the age of 11, have a menstrual cycle shorter than 27 days, or a heavy period that lasts more than a week, you are at greater risk for endometriosis. Also, there is some evidence showing that women are at a higher risk of developing the condition if a close family member (mother, sister, aunt or cousin) is affected. Additionally, research suggests that women with endometriosis are more likely to be over 68 inches tall and have a lower BMI.

Are certain groups more likely to have endometriosis?

White women are more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis than black women and Asian women. Those that not having given birth they are also more likely to have the condition.

What are the treatment options for endometriosis?

The first line of treatment is pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal birth control or progestogen-only. Then comes the long term hormone therapywhich can reduce pain and slow the growth of endometrial implants. Surgery it can also be done to remove endometrial implants, which may reduce pain, but the implants can regrow. Laparoscopic surgery is considered the gold standard when it comes to surgical treatment for endometriosis.

Other surgical procedures include cutting the pelvic nerves to reduce pain. If endometriosis gets worse, an oophorectomy — a procedure that removes the ovaries — or a hysterectomy can be performed: both procedures have also been shown to minimize or eliminate pain associated with endometriosis.

What other health conditions are related to endometriosis or can develop from endometriosis?

Associated conditions include:

  • fibromyalgia
  • interstitial cystitis, a chronic bladder condition
  • TMJ, a condition that causes the jaw to lock
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • migraine

Endometriosis can also be associated with an increased risk of getting certain types of cancer, including:

  • ovarian cancer
  • endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that starts in the womb
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the body’s lymphatic system
  • melanoma, a type of skin cancer

How can endometriosis affect a woman’s fertility?

Some women with endometriosis can conceive and carry a child to term. In fact, endometriosis is sometimes diagnosed visually during a C-section. In other cases, tissue found outside the uterus, known as an endometrial implant, causes inflammation, which can lead to infertility or fertility problems. When it implants attach to the fallopian tubes, can lead to delayed egg release and affect the body’s ability to transfer sperm to the released egg. In women with endometriosis-related infertility, laparoscopic surgery and in vitro fertilization (IVF) can lead to improved pregnancy rates.

How can women improve the symptoms of endometriosis?

Oral contraceptives can reduce the pain of endometriosis and prevent endometrial cells from shedding and causing inflammation, limiting the growth of endometrial implants.

What are some alternative treatments or lifestyle changes that women can make to ease the symptoms of endometriosis?

The National Institutes of Health Not list any alternative treatments for endometriosis, but a 2018 study proved it acupuncture, yoga, gymnastics and electrotherapy may help relieve pain related to endometriosis.

From articles on your site
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  • Lifestyle and Dietary Changes for Endometriosis – HealthyWomen ›
  • Why you should talk about endometriosis – HealthyWomen ›
  • Endometriosis – HealthyWomen ›
  • It took me 3 decades to be diagnosed with endometriosis – HealthyWomen ›
  • Clinically Speaking: Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Endometrial Cancer – HealthyWomen ›
  • Debunking common myths about endometriosis – HealthyWomen ›
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