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Endometriosis

Endometriosis

Endometrium is the tissue the lines the inside of the uterus. Endometriosis is the growth of endometrium outside of the uterus. The terms "implants," "nodules," or "lesions" may be used to describe areas or patches of endometriosis.

Most endometriosis patches are found in the pelvic area, in the following locations:

In rare cases, areas of endometriosis can grow on the lungs or in other parts of the body.

Endometriosis may cause pain. Contrary to earlier thinking, the size and location of the patches does not appear to be related to the severity of pain or to the location of the pain.

Causes

The exact cause of endometriosis is not known, but researchers have some theories.

It may result from something called "retrograde menstrual flow," in which some of the tissue that a woman sheds during her period flows through her fallopian tubes into her pelvis. While most women have some retrograde menstrual flow during their periods, not all of these women have endometriosis. Researchers are trying to uncover what other factors might cause the tissue to attach and grow in some women, but not in others.

Researchers believe that endometriosis likely results from a combination of factors, including (but not limited to) some of the following:

Risk Factors

How many people are affected by or at risk for endometriosis?

Endometriosis is most common in women in their 30s and 40s, but it can affect any female who menstruates.

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.

In a 2011 study, 11% of a group of women with no symptoms of endometriosis actually had the disorder.

Factors that May Increase the Risk of Endometriosis

Studies show that women are at higher risk for endometriosis if their:

Factors that May Lower the Risk of Endometriosis

Studies also show that some factors may lower the risk for endometriosis, including:

FAQs about Endometriosis

If I have endometriosis, will I be able to get pregnant?

About 30% to 40% of women with endometriosis cannot get pregnant on their own, making endometriosis one of the top three causes of female infertility.

But exactly how endometriosis causes infertility is not clear. Some evidence suggests that infertility is related to the extent of the endometriosis patches, because the patches can distort the pelvic anatomy. This would make it difficult for sperm to travel to the ovary or a fertilized egg to travel to the uterus. Other evidence suggests that the inflammation in the abdomen may disrupt ovulation or fertilization, or that the endometrium may not develop properly, hampering the attachment of the embryo to the uterus.

There are treatments for endometriosis-related infertility that may help women get pregnant even with endometriosis.

Is endometriosis the same as endometrial cancer?

Endometriosis and endometrial cancer are not the same. The word "endometrium" describes the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the inside of the uterus. Endometriosis itself is not a form of cancer.

Can endometriosis lead to cancer?

There is a slight increase in the risk of ovarian cancer among women with endometriosis, particularly among women who were diagnosed with the condition at an early age. However, it is unclear whether endometriosis causes ovarian cancer or if the two conditions share risk factors or disease mechanisms that make them more likely to occur together.

In some cases, women with endometriosis also have breast cancer or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, these situations are rare.

Does endometriosis ever go away?

For about one-quarter of women diagnosed with endometriosis, endometriosis patches go away on their own.

Also, after menopause, symptoms of endometriosis typically lessen because there is a drop in the woman's natural hormones and the growths gradually shrink. However, this is not true for all women. If a woman takes hormones for menopausal symptoms, both her pain symptoms and the growths may return.

Women with endometriosis who are experiencing symptoms, especially after menopause, should talk with their health care providers about treatment options.


Reference: National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development

Last updated April 20, 2017