Endometriosis occurs when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows in places outside of the uterus. This misplaced tissue is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus, and sometimes even the bladder or intestines. Endometriosis affects about 5 million women in America and is most common in women in their 30s and 40s. Endometriosis may cause fertility issues for women who want to conceive.
Symptoms of endometriosis
- Pain: This is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Regardless of where the endometrial tissue is located in the body, it continues to act as if it were part of the uterus. Each month it thickens, breaks down and bleeds. This can make for very heavy and painful menstrual periods. Depending on the degree of extra tissue growth, a woman with endometriosis may also experience sharp pain during ovulation, sex, or bowel movements.
- Infertility: According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “up to 30-50% of women with endometriosis may experience infertility.”
- Digestive issues: Women with endometriosis may experience diarrhea or constipation.
Causes and treatment of endometriosis
Unfortunately, we don’t know what causes endometriosis. While there is no cure, treatment options include:
Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medicines can help provide relief. If you are trying to become pregnant, ask your health care provider which ones are OK for you to take.
- Hormonal birth control: If you are NOT trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control such as an extended cycle (you only have a few periods each year) or continuous cycle (no periods) pill or shot can reduce the number of periods you have each year. There are other medications that may be appropriate as well. Your health care provider can advise you depending on your symptoms and your reproductive plans.
When hormones are not helping or you want to get pregnant, surgery may be an option. The doctor will locate any areas of endometriosis and remove them. This procedure may improve the chance for conception.
Can I get pregnant if I have endometriosis?
Most women with a mild to moderate case of endometriosis are able to conceive, eventually. But, it may be more difficult to get pregnant. If you have endometriosis and are thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you talk to your health care provider. He or she will be able to advise you of treatment options that may work for you.