Endometriosis is a chronic condition in which tissue similar to the endometrium, or uterine lining, grows outside of the uterus. During the menstrual cycle, endometrial tissue from the lining of the uterus sheds and grows back. However, sometimes endometrial tissue grows in parts of the body beyond the uterus, such as in other reproductive organs like the fallopian tubes or ovaries. In rare cases, endometriosis may extend further to the bladder, rectum, vagina, or even distant organs like the brain and lungs. These growths and related scar tissue, referred to as lesions, adhesions, nodules, or implants, are hallmarks of endometriosis.
Endometriosis has an impact on the reproductive health and quality of life of millions of girls and women of child-bearing age around the world. If you have endometriosis, read our fact sheet about this often misdiagnosed condition to stay in control of your health and well-being.
Health care experts theorize that endometriosis might stem from a process called retrograde menstruation. During this process, cells from the uterus travel up the fallopian tubes and implant in other places. About 90 percent of women experience retrograde menstruation. Still, only a small fraction (about 1 out of 10) end up with endometriosis, suggesting that additional immunologic, genetic, environmental, and biological factors also contribute to the condition.
Learn more about what else may cause endometriosis.
Women have a higher likelihood of endometriosis when their menstrual cycle lasts 27 days or fewer, or if their periods last more than seven days, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Endometrial tissue is very responsive to hormones, even when it’s not in the uterus. Endometriosis symptoms often fluctuate based on a person’s menstrual periods.
Other symptoms of active endometriosis include:
Learn more about symptoms of endometriosis.
Some of the ways to manage endometriosis symptoms include:
Certain treatments for endometriosis have side effects that can affect future fertility. These treatments include medications (like birth control) that mimic the hormonal conditions of pregnancy or menopause. If you’d like to remain open to the possibility of pregnancy, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider.
Learn more about treatments for endometriosis.
Endometriosis may reduce fertility through multiple effects, such as:
Moreover, some studies show that women over 35 with endometriosis have double the rate of infertility compared to their counterparts of the same age.
Learn more about infertility and endometriosis.
If infertility becomes an issue, gynecologists may suggest laparoscopic surgery to remove the lesions. They may also offer assisted reproductive technology such as intrauterine insemination or IVF. For mild cases, treatment of endometriosis usually aims to remove most or all of the lesions, a procedure that typically improves fertility.
Laparoscopic removal of endometrial tissue has been shown to boost the chances of getting pregnant significantly:
People living with endometriosis who want to become pregnant should work with their doctor and a fertility specialist to learn about the best treatment options to improve their chance of a safe and healthy pregnancy.
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