What is Endometriosis?

Kimberly Marshall, MD – Grapevine OBGYN

Endometriosis is a common disease affecting up to 10% of all reproductive aged women. It is the culprit behind many cases of chronic pelvic pain, painful periods, and infertility. However, most people are largely unfamiliar with what it is and how this condition impacts women.

Endometriosis is a condition in women that occurs when the cells lining the uterus migrate to other parts of the body. Endometriosis is often found attached to areas in the pelvis, such as ovaries, bowl, bladder and rectum. Endometrial cells can also attach to tissue that lines the inside of the abdomen and pelvis called the peritoneum. In rare cases endometriosis can also be found in remote areas of the body such as the lungs.

Endometriosis responds to hormones just like normal endometrial tissue. This leads to a recurring cycle of bleeding and healing, and ultimately to the development of scar tissue or adhesions. Adhesions can cause mild to severe pelvic pain before and during menstruation; pain during bowl movements, urination, and sex. In some women endometriosis has no symptoms at all, and they may only be diagnosed when they have trouble getting pregnant.

Symptoms of endometriosis can occur any time between puberty and menopause, but most often occurs in women during their 30’s and 40’s. Endometriosis occurs more often in women who have never had children. Women with a mother, sister, or daughter with endometriosis are also more likely to have it.

Endometriosis can only be diagnosed by looking directly inside the body. This is most often accomplished by laparoscopy, which is a surgical procedure that uses a small lighted camera to observe the pelvic organs. Sometimes when other causes of pelvic pain have been ruled out you may receive treatment for endometriosis without surgery.

Treatment of endometriosis depends on the severity of your symptoms, the extent of your disease, and whether or not you want to have children. Your doctor may recommend medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen for pain relief. Some people are prescribed birth control pills to control the menstrual cycle and shrink areas of endometriosis. Surgery to treat endometriosis can involve simply removing or burning endometriosis and adhesions, or in patients who don’t want more children, surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries can result in a permanent resolution.