In women, monthly hormonal changes cause the lining of the womb (called the endometrial tissue) to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If the woman does not become pregnant, the cells naturally break down and “bleed” out of the body as part of the menstrual cycle.
Endometriosis occurs when these womb cells develop elsewhere in the body. They go through the same monthly cycle, but have no outlet to leave the body once they break down. This causes inflammation (swelling) and potentially the formation of scar tissue in the affected areas.
Causes of endometriosis
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. It is thought to be due to a combination of several factors including:
- Retrograde menstruation: Endometrial tissue from a period flows back through the fallopian tubes rather than out of the body. It is uncertain what then causes the tissue to attach and grow elsewhere in the body.
- Genetics: Endometriosis tends to run in families, suggesting there may be genes that make it more likely to develop endometriosis.
- Hormones: Endometriosis is dependent on estrogen, and in many cases, endometrial tissue develops a resistance to progesterone.
- Immune dysfunction: The immune system often is compromised in women with endometriosis.
- Environmental factors: Endometriosis has been associated with exposure to certain chemicals, such as particular pesticides.
- Metaplasia: When an existing tissue is changed into a different type of tissue.
Endometriosis symptoms and diagnosis
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary in severity, and some women may not experience any symptoms at all. Commonly they include painful, heavy or irregular periods, pain during or after sex, infertility, painful or bloody bowel movements, pelvic pain, and fatigue.
Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are common with a range of other conditions. Usually, the diagnosis is confirmed by a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. This involves making a small incision, allowing a camera to be inserted to confirm the presence of endometrial tissue outside of the womb.
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments to manage symptoms. They include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are painkillers such as ibuprofen that also reduce the inflammation caused by the excess tissue.
- Hormone treatments, including the contraceptive pill, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogs, progestins or Mirena (levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system).
- Surgery to remove the endometrial tissue (through laparoscopy, or keyhole surgery) or the womb (hysterectomy).
Infertility can be common in women with endometriosis. However, there are various infertility treatments that can help overcome this, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.