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Endometriosis at a Glance
- Endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the inside of your uterus is found outside of your uterus. It's a pretty common health problem that can be painful.
- A doctor will examine you and may do a minor surgical procedure called laparoscopy to see if you have endometriosis. Endometriosis treatment can include medicine or surgery.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus (called the endometrium) grows outside of your uterus, where it doesn't belong. When you have endometriosis, this tissue tends to grow on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the outside of your uterus, as well as on your abdominal organs.
Endometriosis is a fairly common health problem. More than 5 million people are affected by it in the U.S. It can cause painful periods, heavy bleeding, and even make it more difficult to become pregnant. There's no cure for endometriosis, but treatment can help with the symptoms.
Who's at risk for endometriosis?
Anyone with a uterus can get endometriosis, but most people diagnosed are in their 30s and 40s. You might have a bigger chance of having it if:
- you've never had kids
- your periods last more than 7 days
- your monthly cycles are short (get your period every 27 days or less)
- someone in your family has it
- you have a health problem that keeps blood from flowing out of your uterus when you have your period
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Pain right before and during your periods is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Cramps aren't fun for anyone, but with endometriosis, they can be even more intense. A lot of people also have chronic (ongoing) lower belly or lower back pain. Pain from endometriosis can range from barely noticeable to preventing you from getting out of bed in the morning.
Endometriosis can also make vaginal sex uncomfortable. Other symptoms are spotting between your periods, having very heavy period flows, and infertility. Endometriosis sometimes makes it hurt to pee or have a bowel movement.
Some people with endometriosis don't have any symptoms.
Is there treatment for endometriosis?
Endometriosis can't be cured, but it can be treated with medicine or surgery. If your symptoms aren't too bad, pain relievers may be enough to help. If you don't want to get pregnant right now, your doctor or nurse can prescribe hormonal birth control like (like the pill or a hormonal IUD) to cut down on pain and bleeding. There are other medications you can take for endometriosis if you're trying to get pregnant.
Surgery may be an option for you if your symptoms are really bad or if you want to get pregnant but haven't been able to. A surgeon will remove the growths that are outside of your uterus, cutting down on pain and making it easier for you to get pregnant. But often the growths come back after surgery, so you may need to take medication, too. As a last resort, some people have a hysterectomy — removing the uterus and sometimes the ovaries, though it's impossible to become pregnant after that.
How does endometriosis affect fertility?
When you have endometriosis, tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows in places it's not supposed to — usually on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, or the outside of your uterus.
When you have your period, this tissue sheds and causes bleeding, just like the lining of your uterus does. But there's no easy way for the blood to leave your body, so it can cause swelling and pain. This can lead to scar tissue that can block your fallopian tubes, making it harder for pregnancy to happen. A lot of people with endometriosis have problems with fertility.
How can I find out if I have endometriosis?
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you think you might have endometriosis. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and do a pelvic exam to check for cysts or scars. They may also do an imaging test like an ultrasound or MRI.
The only way to know for sure if you have endometriosis is with a minor surgical procedure called a laparoscopy: A doctor will make a small cut in your belly and insert a thin tube with a tiny light called a laparoscope to look for the tissue growing outside the uterus. They might also do a biopsy, to take a small sample of tissue to test.
Where should I go if I think I might have endometriosis?
Make an appointment with your doctor or nurse, or visit a Planned Parenthood health center near you if you have symptoms of endometriosis.