It is estimated that endometriosis — a condition in which the endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus — affects up to 10 percent of women during their child-bearing years. Although there is no specific known cause of endometriosis, several factors have been identified that may increase the risk of endometriosis. Knowing these risk factors for endometriosis can be an important aspect of your health.
Risk factors for endometriosis can be defined as hereditary, personal, or environmental.
Heredity risk factors are caused by genes that are passed on through your family. Experts have found that having female family members with endometriosis, such as a mother, sister, or aunt, can increase your risk of developing endometriosis.
An increased risk due to family history suggests there is a genetic link to endometriosis. This link is not fully understood but could be due to inherited genetic changes that lead to hormonal changes or the ability of certain cells to change into endometrial cells. Studies are ongoing to determine what genes may play a role in endometriosis.
Certain personal factors, often related to the hormones in your body, can increase the risk of endometriosis. These personal risk factors can include:
Another risk factor for endometriosis is never having given birth. During pregnancy, the menstrual cycle stops and estrogen levels decrease. For people who have never given birth, there has not been a pause in the menstrual cycle, and there was no break in estrogen levels.
Endometriosis may be due to retrograde menstruation, in which menstrual fluid containing endometrial cells backs up into the fallopian tubes during menstruation. Retrograde menstruation can lead to the deposit of endometrial cells into other areas.
Endometriosis can depend on the amount of estrogen in the body. There may be an association between endometriosis and chemical exposure in the environment that affects hormone production. Diet may also contribute.
For instance, dioxins are a group of chemical pollutants that can be found naturally as a result of events such as forest fires. Dioxins are also often a byproduct of paper production and manufacturing processes. Dioxin is also thought to interfere with normal processes of the female reproductive system and may lead to endometriosis.
One study demonstrated an association between endometriosis and exposure to organochlorine pesticides. Although these pesticides are no longer used in the United States, the chemicals have a long half-life and have contaminated waters and growing fields, allowing for continued exposure long after they were discontinued from use.
Another study identified an increased risk of endometriosis in people who ate a diet high in trans unsaturated fats and fats that come from animal sources.
If you have risk factors for endometriosis, keep an eye out for developing symptoms so that you can get early treatment.
Common symptoms of endometriosis can include:
If you believe you have endometriosis, talk to your doctor or health care provider about diagnosis and treatment.
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