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What is endometriosis?


Endometriosis (say "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 is not 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?

Your uterus is lined with a type of tissue called endometrium (say "en-doh-MEE-tree-um"). It is like a soft nest where a fertilized egg can grow. 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 menstrual period.

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 do not 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?

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 (ovulation). 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.

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

After a history and pelvic examination, the only way to be sure you have endometriosis is to have a type of surgery called laparoscopy (say "lap-uh-ROS-cuh-pee"). During this surgery, the doctor puts a thin, lighted tube through a small cut in your belly. This lets the doctor see what is inside your belly. If the doctor finds implants, scar tissue, or cysts, he or she can remove them during the same surgery.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are good treatments. 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 surgery. If you want to get pregnant, you may need surgery to remove the implants.f you want to get pregnant, you may need surgery to remove the implants.

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