Endometriosis is a medical condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus, known as the endometrium, develops elsewhere in the body and forms lesions, usually on or around the reproductive organs, bladder, and bowel. The primary symptoms of endometriosis are often pain and infertility.
The exact cause of endometriosis is still unknown, and it is thought that the condition may develop as a result of a combination of factors. Below is a summary of factors that may increase or decrease the risk of developing endometriosis.
Factors that may increase the risk of endometriosis
Endometriosis is about six times more likely to develop in a woman whose mother, sister, or daughter has the condition, compared with the general population. This suggests there may be genetic factors that increase the risk of developing endometriosis. However, since the condition is not always inherited, it is thought that it could develop as a result of multiple different genes acting together.
Scientists do not yet know which genes could be involved, but they have identified several candidates, and research continues to confirm the possible role of these and discover others. For example, a study published in the journal Best Practice & Research: Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2018 identified potential regions in the genome that may be associated with the condition.
A previous study, published in Human Reproduction, suggested an association between a gene called vezatin (VEZT) and endometriosis. Another study published in Nature suggested that regions of the genome involved in pathways related to sex steroid hormones could be implicated. Sex steroid hormones include estrogen, a hormone known to be involved in endometriosis.
Other factors associated with a higher risk of developing endometriosis include:
- the first menstrual cycle, or menarche, occurring before age 11
- monthly cycles shorter than 27 days
- heavy, painful menstrual cycles that last longer than a week
- nulliparity, or never having given birth
- high exposure to estrogen
Factors that may decrease the risk of endometriosis
Several factors have also been identified that may reduce the risk of endometriosis developing or reduce its risk of recurring. For example, pregnancy can often stop or relieve some of the symptoms of endometriosis and may also reduce its risk of occurring in women who do not already have the condition.
Regular exercise of more than four hours per week and low amount of body fat are factors that not only improve overall health but may also decrease the risk of numerous diseases, including endometriosis.
Endometriosis also tends to be less common in women whose periods started in late adolescence.
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