Endometriosis is a medical condition that occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus starts to form outside the organ. It affects the female reproductive system, with pain and infertility being the primary symptoms. The formation of endometrial lesions usually occur in the pelvic cavity, which includes on or under the ovaries, on the fallopian tubes, behind the uterus, on the tissues that hold the uterus in place, and on the bowels or bladder. In rare cases, however, it can also develop on the lungs or in other parts of the body.
Despite the efforts made by researchers worldwide, there is still several uncertainties about endometriosis. There is currently no known cure for the disease and the reasons for its development are not fully understood. However, the research findings made suggest that endometriosis is likely to result from a combination of factors, such as genetics, abnormalities in estrogen and progesterone, which are hormones involved in the female reproductive cycle, a deficiency in the immune system that disables it from destroying endometrial tissue, and an environmental exposure in the womb to harmful chemicals.
Endometriosis Risk Factors
The lack of full understanding about the causes of the development of endometriosis is one of the obstacles to find a cure for the disease, as well as to define all the risk factors associated with it. “Because some women might have endometriosis, but do not have symptoms, it is difficult to know exactly how many women have the condition. Current estimates suggest that 6% to 10% of women of reproductive age have endometriosis, or approximately 5 million women in the United States,” explain the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in their published resources on endometriosis.
However, research has demonstrated that there are some factors involved in the process. Having a mother, sister or daughter with endometriosis increases the risk of suffering from the disease by about sixfold, but having any other member of the family with it is also a risk factor. It is also known that women who menstruate for the first time before the age of 11, who have short monthly cycles of less than 27 days, and heavy menstrual cycles that last more than seven days, are also particularly at risk.
Factors that May Decrease the Risk of Endometriosis
While the most common population affected by endometriosis are women in their 30s or 40s, the disease can affect any women who normally menstruates. In addition, the NIH adds that “in 2011, the NICHD-led Endometriosis: Natural History, Diagnosis, and Outcomes study found that 11% of a group of women with no symptoms of endometriosis actually had the disorder. If this finding applies to all the women in the United States, the number of American women with endometriosis may well exceed previous estimates of 5 million.” However, there are also endometriosis risk factors known to contribute to lower the risk of developing the disease.
Researchers have found that infertility is one of the main effects of endometriosis, and being pregnant or having children does not erases the possibilities of developing it, but it decreases the risk. On the contrary to being a risk factor, having a first menstruation later in adolescence is also a factor that decreases the risk. Regular exercise of more than four hours per week and low amount of body fat are factors than not only improve overall health, but also decrease the risk of suffering numerous diseases, including endometriosis.
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