Endometriosis is a disease characterized by the growth of tissue that resembles the uterine lining (the endometrium) but this growth occurs outside the uterus. These abnormal growths or lesions respond the same way as the normal endometrium to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. However, being outside the uterus, the lesions cannot shed properly, which lead to inflammation and pain.

No cure is currently available for endometriosis, but treatments can help reduce symptoms. Many patients with endometriosis take pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioid narcotics.

What are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs are over-the-counter pain relief medications, which are usually the first line of treatment for endometriosis-associated pain.

They act to reduce inflammation and pain by targeting a group of enzymes called cyclooxygenases. In this way, NSAIDs prevent further pain and inflammation but cannot treat the inflammation that has already occurred. Therefore, they are most effective if taken before inflammation has begun. Many women start taking NSAIDs the day before their menstrual cycle begins to reduce pain during the cycle.

Several NSAIDs used by women with endometriosis include ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac. Many companies produce these generic formulations.

What are opioid narcotics?

Opioid narcotics are medications that interact with the opioid receptors in the brain and reduce the perception of pain by altering the sensitivity of the nerve cells to pain signals. Most opioid narcotics are only available through prescription because they are highly addictive and can cause serious side effects, including nausea, drowsiness, headache, stomach upset, dizziness, and impaired judgment. Opioid narcotics are not recommended for long-term use but may be needed for the treatment of severe pain caused by endometriosis.

Opioid narcotics that may be prescribed to patients with endometriosis include hydrocodoneoxycodonecodeine, and hydromorphone.


Last updated: August 1, 2019


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