Endometriosis is a common health problem for women that occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus (called the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. Most often, endometriosis is found implanted on the:
About 10% of women in their reproductive years have endometriosis, and it’s most often diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s. No one knows for sure what causes it.
How Does It Work?
Just like the lining of the uterus, endometriosis implants respond to changes in your estrogen levels each month as part of your menstrual cycle. The areas of tissue grow, then break down and bleed. This cycle of growing and bleeding can irritate the surrounding tissue on which the endometriosis is implanted. This can cause inflammation and lead to the formation of scar tissue called adhesions. Sometimes these adhesions can even cause organs to stick together. The bleeding, inflammation, and scarring can cause pelvic or abdominal pain, especially before and during your menstrual period.
About 40% of women who have problems with infertility have endometriosis. The endometriosis implants can interfere with the movement of sperm and eggs and your fallopian tubes may even become blocked by adhesions or scar tissue.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
The most common symptom of endometriosis is long-term pelvic pain that gets worse right before and during your menstrual period.
Other endometriosis symptoms include:
However, many women with endometriosis have no symptoms at all.
The pain from endometriosis comes from the nature of the endometrial tissue. Just like the lining of the uterus, endometriosis implants respond to changes in your estrogen levels each month as part of your menstrual cycle. Every month, hormones cause the build-up of tissue and blood vessels in the uterus in case you become pregnant. If you don’t get pregnant, your uterus sheds this tissue and blood during your menstrual period.
The endometrial tissue of endometriosis responds to hormones the same way, only the tissue and blood are shed within the body. This can cause inflammation and lead to the formation of scar tissue called adhesions. Sometimes these adhesions can even cause organs to stick together. The bleeding, inflammation, and scarring can cause pelvic or abdominal pain, especially before and during your menstrual period. All of this worsens over time as the endometrial tissue grows.
To diagnose endometriosis, your doctor will start by performing a pelvic exam. But the only sure way to tell if you have endometriosis is through a minor surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. The doctor inserts an instrument called a laparoscope through small incisions in your pelvic cavity that will allow him or her to look inside. If any abnormal tissue is present, he or she may remove a small amount for a biopsy to learn more about it.
Doctors usually treat endometriosis with medication or surgery. If your endometriosis is severe, you may need both.
If you have been experiencing chronic pelvic pain that gets worse before or during your periods or recognize the symptoms above, you could have endometriosis. Talk to your provider about your symptoms and he or she will create the best plan for diagnosis and treatment. Make an appointment by calling 307.637.7700.