What is endometriosis?

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.

What causes endometriosis?

The cause of endometriosis is not clear. It may be that during a woman’s period, some of the tissue backs up through the fallopian tubes into the belly. Another theory suggests genes are to blame. Current research is also looking at the role of the immune system.

Who is at risk for endometriosis?

Any woman may develop
endometriosis, but the following women seem to be at an increased risk for the

  • Women who have a mother, sister, or daughter with the disease
  • Women who gave birth for the first time after age 30
  • White women
  • Women with an abnormal uterus

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

Each woman may experience symptoms
differently, but these are the most common symptoms:

  • Pain and cramps that may be felt in the belly or lower back during your period
  • Pain during sex
  • Abnormal or heavy menstrual flow
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Painful urination during your periods
  • Painful bowel movements during your periods
  • Other digestive problems, such as
    diarrhea, constipation, or nausea

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.

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

First, your healthcare provider
will review your health history. You will also have a physical exam and a pelvic

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:

  • Biopsy. For this test, a small tissue
    sample is removed from the body and looked at.
  • Ultrasound. This imaging test uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the organs.
  • CT scan. This is an imaging test that
    uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows
    details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. It can find problems that may not
    show up on an ordinary X-ray.
  • MRI. This imaging test uses a large
    magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs or