Endometriosis occurs when the tissue lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis is often painful but there are effective treatments to relieve its symptoms.
What causes endometriosis?
The causes of endometriosis are not completely known. However, one theory suggests that instead of menstrual (period) blood flowing out of the body as usual, some travels backwards along the fallopian tubes and into the pelvis.
In some women, these endometrial cells stick onto the surfaces of pelvic organs and start growing. Just like the endometrium in the uterus, this out-of-place tissue also grows during the menstrual cycle and bleeds.
The hormone oestrogen promotes endometriosis. This may explain why women who have undergone menopause rarely have endometriosis, as they stop producing oestrogen.
Women who have a mother, sister or aunt with the condition are more likely to develop endometriosis.
Common symptoms include:
- painful or heavy periods
- abdominal or pelvic pain
- bleeding between periods
- pain during or after sex
- not being able to get pregnant (infertility).
However, not everyone with endometriosis will experience symptoms.
To diagnose endometriosis, your doctor will probably ask about your symptoms and periods. You may need to have a laparoscopy, which is a type of surgery that allows doctors to look for endometriosis tissue in your abdomen. If your doctor believes you have endometriosis, they can refer you to a gynaecologist.
Endometriosis can usually be treated with medications or surgery. Factors that affect the choice of treatment include:
- your symptoms
- the severity of your endometriosis
- whether you want to become pregnant
Medications for endometriosis include hormone-based treatments and pain relief medication. Hormone treatments can reduce pain and reduce the growth of endometrial cells. However, they work only as long as you take them, so the endometriosis may recur.
Surgical treatment aims to remove as much of the endometriosis as possible. There are several options, including laparoscopic surgery where a small cut is made in your abdomen to allow removal of the endometrial tissue. Surgery may also be combined with medications.
Visit the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health website for more information about endometriosis.
Last reviewed: March 2015