Endometriosis is a common health condition that causes tissue resembling the tissue found in a woman's uterine lining to grow outside the uterus. It can cause pelvic pain, infertility and very heavy periods. About 5 million women in the United States have endometriosis, but don’t have any symptoms.
Endometriosis can happen in any girl or woman who has menstrual periods, but it is more common in women in their 30s and 40s. You might be more likely to get endometriosis if you have:
- Never had children
- Have periods that last more than seven days
- Have a short monthly cycle (27 days or less)
- Have a close relative (mother, aunt, sister) with endometriosis
- A health problem that blocks the normal flow of menstrual blood from your body during your period
As the misplaced tissue grows outside the uterus, it can cover or grow into the ovaries and block the fallopian tubes. This can make it hard for women with endometriosis to get pregnant. Other growth sites can include the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder, or rectum.
What you can do to help prevent and treat endometriosis
Some studies suggest that exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol and caffeine may lower your chances of developing endometriosis.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are many treatments for the pain and infertility it causes. The treatment you and your doctor choose will depend on your symptoms, age and plans for getting pregnant. Options may include:
- Pain medication. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs as a first step in treatment.
- Hormone treatment. Pills, shots or nasal sprays may be a good option for women who have small growths without severe pain and do not want to become pregnant.
- Surgery. When hormones are not providing pain relief or there are fertility problems, surgery is considered.
Many women benefit from joining a support group to help cope with the emotions of endometriosis – like sadness, fear, anger, confusion and loneliness. Talking with friends and family also may help.
How to talk to your doctor
Talk to your obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) about whether you have endometriosis if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Pelvic pain
- Heavy and painful menstrual periods that get worse over time
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, constipation or bloating
- Lower back or intestinal pain
- Pain during or after sex