Endometriosis affects nearly 5 million women in the United States, and while common, the condition is not well understood.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissue (endometrium) that normally lines the uterus to grow outside of the uterus, around the ovaries, bowels, or pelvis.
The tissue functions exactly as the lining inside the uterus would during menstruation, by thickening and then breaking down in the form of bleeding, but because it is outside of the uterus, the tissue has nowhere to go and becomes trapped inside the body. This causes the tissue surrounding the endometrium to become (often painfully) irritated. This can result in scarring or adhesions, where your organs get abnormally bound together.
Who Is at Risk for Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is most common among women in their 30s and 40s, as it typically develops years after menstruation begins. Some factors that may increase your risk include:
- A family history of endometriosis
- A history of pelvic infections
- Any medical condition that prevents menstrual blood from exiting your body normally
- Never having been pregnant
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor.
- Pain during your period that is worse than normal
- Heavy periods or bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain during sex
- Pain when urinating or making bowel movements during your period
- Trouble conceiving
How Is Endometriosis Treated?
If you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, doctors may use medication for treatment, depending on the severity of your condition and whether you’re trying to get pregnant.
Hormonal birth control methods are a common treatment, as well as over-the-counter pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If you’re trying to become pregnant, you may need surgery to remove the endometrium.