What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is often a painful disorder where tissues that normally line your uterus, the endometrium, grow outside your uterus. The displaced tissue still acts like it normally would outside of the uterus — thickening, breaking down and bleeding with each menstrual cycle. But, because it has nowhere to go, it gets trapped. Endometriosis mostly impacts the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis, but can spread beyond the pelvic organs, but this is rare. The exact cause is unknown, but there are theories as to what causes it.

Symptoms first develop shortly after menstrual periods first begin and end permanently with menopause, making it difficult to diagnose. During pregnancy, endometriosis symptoms may end temporarily. Common symptoms may include:

  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Lower back pain
  • Infertility

Your risk of developing endometriosis increases if you have:

  • A family history of endometriosis
  • Never given birth
  • Started your period at an early age
  • Short menstrual cycles – for example, less than 27 days

Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam or ultrasound to identify abnormalities like cysts and scars or perform a laparoscopic procedure to look for endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. During the procedure, a small tissue sample, called a biopsy may be taken for further testing.

Having a doctor you trust will help you in managing and treating endometriosis. Treatment options may include pain medication, hormone therapy, or surgery to remove the endometrial implants if you are planning on having children or a hysterectomy if you are not planning on having children or if you are done having children.