What You Should Know About Endometriosis

Most women consider menstrual cramps a normal part of life that they can manage with ibuprofen or a heating pad. But some women experience debilitating menstrual pain that may be related to a condition called endometriosis.

“Everyone complains about their period. But if you can’t function for a week every month, that’s not normal,” says Nicole Donnellan, MD, gynecologic surgeon, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. She specializes in diagnosing and treating endometriosis.

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What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disorder in which endometrial tissue, or the cells that normally line the uterus, grows outside the uterus. It is a benign but chronic disease that can cause severe pain and interfere with fertility.

Who Does Endometriosis Affect?

It’s estimated that endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women.

“Because it’s driven by hormones, endometriosis mostly occurs in women between the ages of 18 and 45,” Dr. Donnellan says. It is very rare in postmenopausal women.

It’s difficult to tell how many women endometriosis affects. Among women treated for pain and/or infertility, about 40% to 70% receive a confirmed diagnosis of endometriosis.

“Many other women have the disease but don’t seek treatment because they don’t have pain,” Dr. Donnellan says.

Signs and Symptoms of Endometriosis

The most common symptom of endometriosis is pain — when menstruating, during or after sexual intercourse, or when having a bowel movement or urinating. Endometriosis often goes undiagnosed because these also are symptoms of other diseases and disorders, including pelvic inflammatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ovarian cysts.

The exact cause of the disorder is unclear. And the only way to confirm an endometriosis diagnosis is with surgery and a tissue biopsy.

“There are no imaging or blood tests for it,” Dr. Donnellan says.

Treatment Options for Endometriosis

Medical options to treat endometriosis include over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, hormone therapy (birth control), and drugs that keep your body from producing estrogen.

For some women, laparoscopic surgery to remove the abnormal tissue may be appropriate when medical options fail.

Because treating endometriosis is a team approach, UPMC Magee established a multidisciplinary endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain program. The program has locations in Oakland, Cranberry Township, and Erie. Patients who seek care at these locations receive evaluations from both a gynecologic surgeon and a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor disorders.

“A women’s health physical therapist joins me in meeting with patients during their first visit,” Dr. Donnellan says. “We work together to optimize the care of each patient and communicate throughout every patient’s journey.”

For more information on endometriosis care at UPMC, visit our website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.