The tissue that lines the uterus is called the endometrium. Normally, if a woman doesn’t get pregnant, this tissue is shed each month during her period. In endometriosis, tissue that looks and acts like endometrial tissue implants outside the uterus. Each month, this misplaced tissue responds to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. It builds up, breaks down, and bleeds. But, the blood has nowhere to go. This causes surrounding tissue to become inflamed or swollen. It can also cause scar tissue, chronic pain, and heavy periods.
Endometriosis is a main cause of infertility in women. This can happen if the tissue implants in the ovaries or fallopian tubes. Tissue can also implant on other organs in the pelvis.
Although any woman may develop endometriosis, the following women seem to be at an increased risk for the disease:
While each woman may experience symptoms differently, these are the most common symptoms:
The amount of pain a woman has isn’t always related to the severity of the disease. Some women with severe disease may have no pain. Other women with a milder form of the disease may have severe pain or other symptoms.
First, your healthcare provider will review your medical history. You will also have a physical exam and a pelvic exam.
A laparoscopy is done to diagnose endometriosis. This uses a thin tube with a lens and a light at the end. It’s inserted into an incision in the abdominal wall to see into the pelvic area. The healthcare provider can often find the locations, extent, and size of the misplaced tissue.
Other tests may include:
Your healthcare provider will consider your age, overall health, symptoms and other factors when advising what treatment is best for you. Whether you hope to become pregnant will also play a role in your choices.
Treatment choices include medicine, surgery, or both. If symptoms are mild, you may only need pain medicine. In other cases, hormone-based medicine, such as birth control pills, will stop ovulation and slow endometriosis.
Several choices can be used to remove the implants. Healthcare providers may be able to remove abnormal tissue growths using a laparoscope. In other cases, open surgery is needed. Surgery to remove the uterus is also a choice.
Simple steps that can help ease the pain of endometriosis include:
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