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Endometriosis (say "en-doh-mee-tree-OH-sus") occurs when cells that are like the cells that line the inside of your uterus grow outside of your uterus. These cells form clumps of tissue called implants. They usually grow on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the outer wall of the uterus, the intestines, or other organs in the belly. In rare cases, they spread to areas beyond the belly.
Endometriosis usually isn't dangerous. But it can cause pain and other problems.
Experts aren't sure what causes endometriosis. Problems with reproductive organs may cause endometrial cells to go up through the fallopian tubes and into the belly. And your immune system may not kill these cells outside the uterus like it should. These cells might be carried through the body by blood or lymph fluid.
The most common symptoms are pain, bleeding, and trouble getting pregnant. You may have pain in your lower belly, rectum or vagina, or lower back. And you may have heavy periods, bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, or blood in your urine or stool. Symptoms often are most severe before and during your menstrual period.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, periods, past health, and family medical history. You may also have a pelvic exam. And you may have imaging tests, such as a pelvic ultrasound or MRI. But to find out for sure if you have endometriosis, a surgery called laparoscopy is often used.
Treatment choices depend on whether you want to control pain or you want to get pregnant. For pain and bleeding, you can try medicines or have surgery to remove the endometrial tissue and scar tissue. If you want to get pregnant, you may need surgery to remove the endometrial tissue.
Experts don't know what causes endometriosis. But they do know that the hormone estrogen makes the problem worse.
Here are some possible causes.
Your risk of endometriosis is higher if:
Sometimes endometriosis does not cause symptoms. But when symptoms are present, they can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms are often most severe just before and during your menstrual period. They may get better as your period is ending. But sometimes pain occurs all the time.
Your uterus is lined with tissue called endometrium. When you have endometriosis, clumps of similar tissue (called implants) form outside your uterus. The implants can be painful. Sometimes they form scar tissue or fluid-filled sacs (cysts). Scar tissue may make it hard to get pregnant.
Call a doctor now if you develop sudden, severe pelvic pain.
Call your doctor if:
To find out if you have endometriosis, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, periods, past health, and family history. (It sometimes runs in families.) You may also have a pelvic exam. And you may have imaging tests, such as a pelvic ultrasound or MRI, to look at the organs in your belly.
Your exam, symptoms, and risk factors may strongly suggest that you have endometriosis. But the only way to be sure that you have it is to have surgery. Laparoscopy is often the surgery used. During this surgery, the doctor puts a thin, lighted tube through a small cut in your belly. This lets the doctor see what's inside your belly.
Treatment depends on how much pain you have and whether you want to get pregnant. Treatments include:
A hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the uterus and ovaries) are sometimes used as a last resort for severe pain.
If you're close to menopause, you may consider treatment with medicines rather than surgery. Endometriosis usually stops causing problems when you stop having periods.
Home treatment may ease the pain of endometriosis. You can try the following things along with your other treatments.
Use a heating pad or hot water bottle, or take a warm bath. Heat improves blood flow and may relieve pelvic pain.
Lie on your back and place a pillow under your knees. Or lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest.
Exercise improves blood flow, increases pain-relieving endorphins naturally made by your body, and reduces pain.
Surgery may be recommended when:
Surgery choices include:
Current as of:
April 19, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: April 19, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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