Endometriosis - Topic Overview
What is endometriosis?
"en-doh-mee-tree-OH-sus") is a problem many women have during their
childbearing years. It means that a type of tissue that lines your uterus is
also growing outside your uterus. This does not always cause symptoms. And it
usually isn't dangerous. But it can cause pain and other problems.
The clumps of tissue that grow outside your uterus are 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.
How does endometriosis cause problems?
is lined with a type of tissue called
endometrium (say "en-doh-MEE-tree-um"). Each month, your body releases
hormones that cause the endometrium to thicken and get ready for an egg. If you
get pregnant, the fertilized egg attaches to the endometrium and starts to
grow. If you do not get pregnant, the endometrium breaks down, and your body
sheds it as blood. This is your
When you have
endometriosis, the implants of tissue outside your uterus act just like the
tissue lining your uterus. During your menstrual cycle, they get thicker, then
break down and bleed. But the implants are outside your uterus, so the blood
cannot flow out of your body. The implants can get irritated and painful.
Sometimes they form scar tissue or fluid-filled sacs (cysts). Scar tissue may
make it hard to get pregnant.
What causes endometriosis?
Experts don't know
what causes endometrial tissue to grow outside your uterus. But they do know
that the female hormone
estrogen makes the problem worse. Women have high
levels of estrogen during their childbearing years. It is during these
years-usually from their teens into their 40s-that women have endometriosis.
Estrogen levels drop when menstrual periods stop (menopause). Symptoms usually
go away then.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms
- Pain. Where it hurts depends on where the
implants are growing. You may have pain in your lower belly, your rectum or
vagina, or your lower back. You may have pain only before and during your
periods or all the time. Some women have more pain during sex, when they have a
bowel movement, or when their ovaries release an egg
- Abnormal bleeding. Some women have heavy periods,
spotting or bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, or blood in their
urine or stool.
- Trouble getting pregnant (infertility).
This is the only symptom some women have.
Endometriosis varies from woman to woman. Some women don't know that they have it until they go to see a doctor because they can't
get pregnant or have a procedure for another problem. Some have mild cramping that they think is normal for them. In
other women, the pain and bleeding are so bad that they aren't able to work or
go to school.
How is endometriosis diagnosed?