Endometriosis is a common disorder in which the tissues that normally line the uterus, called endometrium, are found growing outside of the organ, often on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer surface of the uterus, and tissues that line the pelvis.
Endometrium has the same effect even when it’s outside the uterus. It thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. But because the displaced tissues — also called implants — have no way to exit your body, they can cause scar tissue, ovarian cysts, and adhesions to form. Common symptoms of endometriosis include:
Aside from causing pain that some women find debilitating and difficult to manage, endometriosis is associated with two major health complications: infertility and ovarian cancer.
Nearly 40% of all women with infertility also have endometriosis, while as many as half of all women with endometriosis have difficulty becoming pregnant. That’s because the chronic inflammation caused by endometriosis can damage sperm and eggs, as well as impede their movement and prevent them from coming together. Women with mild to moderate endometriosis are often advised not to delay having children, as the problem can worsen as time goes on.
Although the overall risk of ovarian cancer is low, it does occur at higher-than-normal rates in women who have endometriosis.
Although endometriosis can’t be cured, there are a variety of ways to treat the symptoms and problems it causes. For mild symptoms, you may find that the over-the-counter pain relievers ibuprofen and naproxen are helpful.
If you aren’t trying to become pregnant, using some form of hormonal birth control or other hormonal medication can keep the condition from worsening. Hormonal medications can slow the growth of endometrial tissues and may also prevent the formation of new adhesions. Extended cycle or continuous cycle hormonal birth control, which are available as a pill or an injection, can stop bleeding and reduce or eliminate pain.
For more severe cases of endometriosis, surgery can provide pain relief and improved fertility. Surgery involves an operation to remove any implants. Because the problem redevelops over time, using hormonal medications after surgery can delay its return.
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