Skip to main content
Select Source:

Endometriosis

Endometriosis

Definition

Endometriosis is a condition in which bits of tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grow in other parts of the body (and within the uterus). Like the uterine lining, this tissue builds up and sheds in response to monthly hormonal cycles. The blood discarded from these implants falls onto surrounding organs, causing swelling and inflammation. This repeated irritation leads to the development of scar tissue and adhesions.

Description

Endometriosis is estimated to affect 7% of women of childbearing age in the United States. It most commonly strikes between the ages of 25 and 40. Endometriosis can also appear in the teen years, but never before the start of menstruation . It is seldom seen in postmenopausal women.

Endometriosis was once called the "career woman's disease" because it was thought to be a product of delayed childbearing. The statistics defy such a narrow generalization; however, pregnancy may slow the progress of the condition. Women whose periods last longer than a week with an interval of less than 27 days between them seem to be more prone to the condition.

Endometrial implants are most often found on the pelvic organs, including the ovaries, uterus, fallopian

tubes, and in the cavity behind the uterus. Occasionally, this tissue grows in such distant parts of the body as the lungs, arms, and kidneys. Ovarian cysts may form around endometrial tissue (endometriomas) and may range from pea to grapefruit size. Endometriosis is a progressive condition that usually advances slowly over the course of many years. Doctors rank cases from minimal to severe based on factors such as the number and size of the endometrial implants, their appearance and location, and the extent of the scar tissue and adhesions in the vicinity of the growths.

Causes & symptoms

Although the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, a number of theories have been put forward. Some of the more popular ones are:

  • Implantation theory. This theory states that a reversal in the direction of menstrual flow sends discarded endometrial cells into the body cavity where they attach to internal organs and seed endometrial implants. There is considerable evidence to support this explanation. Reversed menstrual flow occurs in 70-90% of women and is thought to be more common in women with endometriosis.
  • Vascular-lymphatic theory. This theory suggests that the lymph system or blood vessels (vascular system) are the vehicles for distribution of endometrial cells out of the uterus.
  • Coelomic metaplasia theory. According to this hypothesis, remnants of tissue left over from prenatal development of the woman's reproductive tract transform into endometrial cells throughout the body.
  • Induction theory. This explanation postulates that an unidentified substance found in the body forces cells from the lining of the body cavity to change into endometrial cells.

In addition to these theories, the following factors are thought to influence the development of endometriosis:

  • Heredity. A woman's chance of developing endometriosis is seven times greater if her mother or sisters have the disease.
  • Immune system function. Women with endometriosis may have lower functioning immune systems that have trouble eliminating stray endometrial cells. This would explain why a high percentage of women experience reversed menstrual flow while relatively few develop endometriosis.
  • Dioxin exposure. Some research suggests a link between the exposure to dioxin (TCCD), a toxic chemical found in weed killers, and the development of endometriosis.

While many women with endometriosis suffer debilitating symptoms, others have the disease without knowing it. Strangely, there does not seem to be any relation between the severity of the symptoms and the extent of the disease. The most common symptoms are:

  • Menstrual pain . Pain in the lower abdomen that begins a day or two before the menstrual period starts and continues until the end is typical of endometriosis. Some women also report lower back aches, and pain during urination and bowel movement, especially during their periods.
  • Painful sexual intercourse. Pressure on the vagina and cervix causes severe pain for some women.
  • Abnormal bleeding. Heavy menstrual periods, irregular bleeding, and spotting are common features of endometriosis.
  • Infertility . There is a strong association between endometriosis and infertility, although the reasons for this have not been fully explained. It is thought that the build-up of scar tissue and adhesions blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. Endometriosis may also affect fertility by causing hormonal irregularities and a higher rate of early miscarriage.

Diagnosis

The first step is to perform a pelvic exam to try to feel if implants are present. Very often there is no strong evidence of endometriosis from a physical exam. The only way to make a definitive diagnosis is through minor surgery called a laparoscopy. A laparoscope, a slender scope with a light on the end, is inserted into the woman's abdomen through a small incision near her belly button. This allows the doctor to examine the internal organs. Often, a sample of tissue is taken for later examination in the laboratory. Endometriosis is sometimes discovered when a woman has abdominal surgery for another reason such as tubal ligation or hysterectomy.

Various imaging techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography scan (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can offer additional information but aren't useful in making the initial diagnosis. A blood test may also be ordered because women with endometriosis have higher levels of the blood protein CA125. Testing for this substance before and after treatment can predict a recurrence of the disease, but is not reliable as a diagnostic tool.

Treatment

Although severe endometriosis should not be self-treated, many women find they can help relieve symptoms through alternative therapies. In a survey conducted by the Endometriosis Association, 40-60% of the women who used alternative medicines reported relief of pain and other symptoms.

Diet

A high-fiber diet , particularly from grains and beans, may decrease cramping and inflammation. The oils in seeds, nuts, and certain fish (cod, salmon, mackerel, and sardines) may help to relieve cramping. Carrots, beets, lemons, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, garlic , citrus fruits, vegetables, chicory , radicchio, and yogurt may help to reduce symptoms. Some women have found relief when they turned to a macrobiotic diet (one that is very restrictive and intended to prolong life). Occasionally, an allergy elimination diet may be recommended.

Sugar and animal fats can increase inflammation and aggravate pain. Milk and meat may contain hormones so they should be avoided. Vegetarian or vegan diets may be recommended for those with endometriosis.

Supplements

The following can be used to treat endometriosis:

  • vitamin B complex to help the liver break down excess estrogen
  • vitamin C to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding
  • calcium
  • bioflavonoids to help reduce heavy menstrual bleeding
  • magnesium to relieve pain and flush out toxins
  • vitamin E to heal inflamed tissues
  • iron for anemia resulting from heavy bleeding
  • lipotropic factors (Choline, methionine , and inositol enhance liver function.)
  • fish oil capsules, flax oil, or any essential fatty acid to reduce cramping

Several herbal remedies for endometriosis exist. The first four in this list are the most commonly used remedies:

  • Genistein (soy/isoflavone) helps the body excrete excess estrogen and possibly blocks estrogen's effect.
  • Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus ) helps ease cramping.
  • Dong quai (Angelica sinensis ) balances hormone levels and reduces inflammation.
  • Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa ) helps the body excrete excess estrogen and improves the health of pelvic organs.
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense ) balances hormone levels.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum ) helps the liver.
  • Life (Senecio aureus ) root may improve the health of pelvic organs.
  • Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium ) eases pain and cramping.
  • Dandelion eases pain and cramping and supports the liver.
  • Yarrow (Archillea millefolium ) eases cramping and restores hormonal balance.
  • Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis ) relieved endometriosis symptoms in 90% of patients in a study.
  • Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris ) reduces heavy menstrual bleeding and tones the uterus.
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria ) reduces pain.

Other treatments

Other remedies for endometriosis include acupuncture or acupressure to relieve pain, visualization, guided imagery , naturopathy, homeopathy (Lilium tigrum, sepia , and belladonna ), hydrotherapy, exercise , and meditation .

Allopathic treatment

How endometriosis is treated depends on the woman's symptoms, her age, the extent of the disease, and her personal preferences. The condition cannot be fully eradicated without surgery. Treatment focuses on managing pain, preserving fertility, and delaying the progress of the condition.

Medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) are useful for mild cramping and menstrual pain. If pain is severe, a doctor may prescribe narcotic medications, although these can be addicting and are rarely used.

Hormonal therapies effectively tame endometriosis but also act as contraceptives. They include oral contraceptives, synthetic male hormones (danazol, gestrinone), progestins, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone antagonists.

Surgery

Endometrial implants and ovarian cysts can be removed with laser surgery performed through a laparoscope. For women with minimal endometriosis, this technique is usually successful in reducing pain and slowing disease progress. It may also help infertile women increase their chances of becoming pregnant.

Removing the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes (a hysterectomy) is the only permanent method of eliminating endometriosis. This is an extreme measure that deprives a woman of her ability to bear children and forces her body into menopause .

Expected results

Most women who have endometriosis have minimal symptoms and do well. Overall, endometriosis symptoms come back in an average of 40% of women over the five years following treatment. A 2002 review found that teenagers and young women under the age of 22 years have almost twice the chance of symptom recurrence after surgical removal of endometriosis compared with older women. Some researchers now believe that younger women may have a different form of endometriosis than that found in older women.

With hormonal therapy, pain returned after five years in 37% of patients with minimal symptoms and 74% of those with severe cases. The highest success rate from conservative treatment followed complete removal of implants using laser surgery. Of these women, 80% were still pain-free five years later. Hysterectomy may be necessary should other treatments fail.

Prevention

There is no proven way to prevent endometriosis. One study, however, indicated that girls who begin participating in aerobic exercise at a young age are less likely to develop the condition.

Resources

BOOKS

Ballweg, Mary Lou. The Endometriosis Sourcebook. Chicago: Congdon & Weed, 1995.

D'Hooghe, Thomas M. and Joseph A. Hill. "Endometriosis" in Novak's Gynecology, edited by Jonathan S. Berek, et al., 12th ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1996.

Malesky, Gail. "Endometriosis." Nature's Medicines: from Asthma to Weight Gain, from Colds to High Cholesterolthe Most Powerful All-Natural Cures. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1999.

Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle: Herbal & Medical Solutions From Adolescence to Menopause. St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1998.

PERIODICALS

Aesoph, Lauri M. "Nature's Rx for Endometriosis." Let's Live 67 (June 1999): 70+.

Drexler, Madeline. "What Can You Do About Endometriosis?" Self 17 (January 1995):122+.

Johnson, Kate. "Endometriosis Symptoms often Recur in Teens (Postsurgery Complaints)." Pediatric News (September 2002):43.

ORGANIZATIONS

Endometriosis Association International Headquarters. 8585 North 76th Place, Milwaukee, WI 53223. (800) 992-3636. http://EndometriosisAssn.org.

Belinda Rowland

Teresa G. Odle

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis-0

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis-0

Endometriosis

Endometriosis

Definition

Endometriosis is a condition in which bits of the tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grow in other parts of the body. Like the uterine lining, this tissue builds up and sheds in response to monthly hormonal cycles. However, there is no natural outlet for the blood discarded from these implants. Instead, it falls onto surrounding organs, causing swelling and inflammation. This repeated irritation leads to the development of scar tissue and adhesions in the area of the endometrial implants.

Description

Endometriosis is estimated to affect 7% of women of childbearing age in the United States. It most commonly strikes between the ages of 25 and 40. Endometriosis can also appear in the teen years, but never before the start of menstruation. It is seldom seen in postmenopausal women.

Endometriosis was once called the "career woman's disease" because it was thought to be a product of delayed childbearing. The statistics defy such a narrow generalization; however, pregnancy may slow the progress of the condition. A more important predictor of a woman's risk is if her female relatives have endometriosis. Another influencing factor is the length of a woman's menstrual cycle. Women whose periods last longer than a week with an interval of less than 27 days between them seem to be more prone to the condition.

Endometrial implants are most often found on the pelvic organsthe ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and in the cavity behind the uterus. Occasionally, this tissue grows in such distant parts of the body as the lungs, arms, and kidneys. Newly formed implants appear as small bumps on the surfaces of the organs and supporting ligaments and are sometimes said to look like "powder burns." Ovarian cysts may form around endometrial tissue (endometriomas) and may range from pea to grapefruit size. Endometriosis is a progressive condition that usually advances slowly, over the course of many years. Doctors rank cases from minimal to severe based on factors such as the number and size of the endometrial implants, their appearance and location, and the extent of the scar tissue and adhesions in the vicinity of the growths.

Causes and symptoms

Although the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, a number of theories have been put forward. Some of the more popular ones are:

  • Implantation theory. Originally proposed in the 1920s, this theory states that a reversal in the direction of menstrual flow sends discarded endometrial cells into the body cavity where they attach to internal organs and seed endometrial implants. There is considerable evidence to support this explanation. Reversed menstrual flow occurs in 70-90% of women and is thought to be more common in women with endometriosis. However, many women with reversed menstrual flow do not develop endometriosis.
  • Vascular-lymphatic theory. This theory suggests that the lymph system or blood vessels (vascular system) is the vehicle for the distribution of endometrial cells out of the uterus.
  • Coelomic metaplasia theory. According to this hypothesis, remnants of tissue left over from prenatal development of the woman's reproductive tract transforms into endometrial cells throughout the body.
  • Induction theory. This explanation postulates that an unidentified substance found in the body forces cells from the lining of the body cavity to change into endometrial cells.

In addition to these theories, the following factors are thought to influence the development of endometriosis:

  • Heredity. A woman's chance of developing endometriosis is seven times greater if her mother or sisters have the disease.
  • Immune system function. Women with endometriosis may have lower functioning immune systems that have trouble eliminating stray endometrial cells. This would explain why a high percentage of women experience reversed menstrual flow while relatively few develop endometriosis.
  • Dioxin exposure. Some research suggests a link between the exposure to dioxin (TCCD), a toxic chemical found in weed killers, and the development of endometriosis.

While many women with endometriosis suffer debilitating symptoms, others have the disease without knowing it. Paradoxically, there does not seem to be any relation between the severity of the symptoms and the extent of the disease. The most common symptoms are:

  • Menstrual pain. Pain in the lower abdomen that begins a day or two before the menstrual period starts and continues through to the end is typical of endometriosis. Some women also report lower back aches and pain during urination and bowel movement, especially during their periods.
  • Painful sexual intercourse. Pressure on the vagina and cervix causes severe pain for some women.
  • Abnormal bleeding. Heavy menstrual periods, irregular bleeding, and spotting are common features of endometriosis.
  • Infertility. There is a strong association between endometriosis and infertility, although the reasons for this have not been fully explained. It is thought that the build up of scar tissue and adhesions blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. Endometriosis may also affect fertility by causing hormonal irregularities and a higher rate of early miscarriage.

Diagnosis

If a doctor suspects endometriosis, the first step will be to perform a pelvic exam to try to feel if implants are present. Very often there is no strong evidence of endometriosis from a physical exam. The only way to make a definitive diagnosis is through minor surgery called a laparoscopy. A laparoscope, a slender scope with a light on the end, is inserted into the woman's abdomen through a small incision near her belly button. This allows the doctor to examine the internal organs for endometriotic growths. Often, a sample of tissue is taken for later examination in the laboratory. Endometriosis is sometimes discovered when a woman has abdominal surgery for another reason such as tubal ligation or hysterectomy.

Various imaging techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography scan (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can offer additional information but aren't useful in making the initial diagnosis. A blood test may also be ordered because women with endometriosis have higher levels of the blood protein CA125. Testing for this substance before and after treatment can predict a recurrence of the disease, but the test is not reliable as a diagnostic tool.

Treatment

How endometriosis is treated depends on the woman's symptoms, her age, the extent of the disease, and her personal preferences. The condition cannot be fully eradicated without surgery. Conservative treatment focuses on managing the pain, preserving fertility, and delaying the progress of the condition.

Pain relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are useful for mild cramping and menstrual pain. Prescription-strength and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn), are also effective. If pain is severe, a doctor may prescribe narcotic medications, although these can be addicting and are rarely used.

Hormonal treatments

Hormonal therapies effectively tame endometriosis but also act as contraceptives. A woman who is hoping to become pregnant would take these medications for a period of time, then try to conceive within several months of discontinuing treatment.

  • Oral contraceptives. Continuously taking estrogen-progestin pills tricks the body into thinking it is pregnant. This state of pseudopregnancy means reduced pelvic pain and a temporary withering of endometrial implants.
  • Danazol (Danocrine) and gestrinone are synthetic male hormones that lower estrogen levels, prevent menstruation, and shrink endometrial tissues. On the downside, they lead to weight gain and menopause-like symptoms, and cause some women to develop masculine characteristics.
  • Progestins. Medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera ) and related drugs may also be used in treating endometriosis. They have been proven effective in minimizing pain and halting the progress of the condition, but are rarely used because of the high rate of side effects.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnHR) agonists. These estrogen-inhibiting drugs successfully limit pain and prevent the growth of endometrial implants. They can cause menopause symptoms, however, and doses have to be regulated to prevent bone loss associated with low estrogen levels.

Surgery

Removing the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes is the only permanent method of eliminating endometriosis. This is an extreme measure that deprives a woman of her ability to bear children and forces her body into menopause. Endometrial implants and ovarian cysts can be removed with laser surgery performed through a laparoscope. For women with minimal endometriosis, this technique is usually successful in reducing pain and slowing the condition's progress. It may also help infertile women increase their chances of becoming pregnant.

Alternative treatment

Although severe endometriosis should not be self-treated, many women find they can help their condition through alternative therapies. Taking vitamin B complex combined with vitamins C, E, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and selenium can help the depression and lack of energy that may accompany endometriosis. B vitamins also counteract the side effects of hormonal drugs. Other women have found relief when they turned to a macrobiotic diet. Less extreme diets that cut out sugar, salt, and processed foods are sometimes helpful, as well. Mind-body therapies such as relaxation and visualization help women cope with pain. Other avenues to combat pain include acupuncture and biofeedback techniques. Still other women report positive results after being treated by chiropractors or homeopathic doctors.

Prognosis

Most women who have endometriosis have minimal symptoms and do well. Overall, endometriosis symptoms come back in an average of 40% of women over the five years following treatment. With hormonal therapy, pain returned after five years in 37% of patients with minimal symptoms and 74% of those with severe cases. The highest success rate from conservative treatment followed complete removal of implants using laser surgery. Eighty percent of these women were still pain-free five years later. In cases that don't respond to these treatments, a woman and her doctor may consider surgery to remove her reproductive organs.

Prevention

There is no proven way to prevent endometriosis. One study, however, indicated that girls who begin participating in aerobic exercise at a young age are less likely to develop the condition.

Resources

ORGANIZATIONS

Endometriosis Association International Headquarters. 8585 North 76th Place, Milwaukee, WI 53223. (800) 992-3636. http://EndometriosisAssn.org.

KEY TERMS

Adhesions Web-like scar tissue that may develop as a result of endometriosis and bind organs to one another.

Dioxin A toxic chemical found in weed killers that has been linked to the development of endometriosis.

Endometrial implants Growths of endometrial tissue that attach to organs, primarily in the pelvic cavity.

Endometrium The tissue lining the uterus that grows and sheds each month during a woman's menstrual cycle.

Estrogen A female hormone that promotes the growth of endometrial tissue.

Hormonal therapy Use of hormone medications to inhibit menstruation and relieve the symptoms of endometriosis.

Laparoscopy A diagnostic procedure for endometriosis performed by inserting a slender, wand-like instrument through a small incision in the woman's abdomen.

Menopause The end of a woman's menstrual periods when the body stops making estrogen.

Retrograde menstruation Menstrual flow that travels into the body cavity rather than being expelled through the uterus.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis-1

"Endometriosis." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis-1

endometriosis

endometriosis (ĕn´dəmē´trē-ō´sĬs), a condition in which small pieces of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) migrate to other places in the pelvic area. The endometrial fragments may move to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or other pelvic structures (e.g., the bladder or rectum). The migrated tissue retains its character and changes with the fluctuations of the menstrual cycle, bleeding at the time of menstruation. The blood becomes trapped in cysts that can grow from the size of a pinhead to the size of a grapefruit. Symptoms of endometriosis can be absent or can include painful menstruation, severe abdominal or low back pain, painful intercourse, and rectal bleeding at the time of menstruation. Symptoms often disappear with pregnancy, but 30%–40% of women who have endometriosis are infertile.

The cause of endometriosis is unknown. One hypothesis is that the endometrial fragments move back up through the fallopian tubes rather than leaving the body with the menstrual flow. Diagnosis is by pelvic examination or laparoscopy. Treatment, which depends on the severity of the disease, may include a course of oral contraceptives, or danazol if the patient is trying to conceive. In severe cases surgical removal of the cysts or hysterectomy may be performed.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"endometriosis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"endometriosis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis

"endometriosis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis

Endometriosis

Endometriosis

What Is Endometriosis?

What Are the Symptoms and Effects of Endometriosis?

How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?

How Is Endometriosis Treated?

Resources

Endometriosis (en-do-me-tree-O-sis) is a chronic condition in which pieces of the lining of the uterus (YOO-ter-us) become embedded in tissues outside the uterus.

KEYWORD

for searching the Internet and other reference sources

Gynecology

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus. The endometrium (en-do-ME-tree-um) is the lining of the uterus (womb), which is the muscular organ in which a fetus develops during pregnancy. During the monthly menstrual cycle, chemicals called hormones* cause the endometrium to grow thick in preparation for pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, the endometrium is shed as blood and tissue in the monthly menstrual period.

* hormones
are chemicals that are produced by different glands in the body. Hormones are like the bodys ambassadors: they are created in one place but are sent through the body to have specific regulatory effects in different places.

In a woman with endometriosis, fragments of endometrial tissue are implanted outside the uterus. The origin of endometriosis is not known for sure, but scientists speculate that parts of the endometrium may not leave the body during menstruation. Instead, these stray fragments find their way into other parts of the pelvic cavity. These stray pieces of tissue can attach to other organs, stick organs together, or form scar tissue.

What Are the Symptoms and Effects of Endometriosis?

Endometrial implants outside the uterus respond to hormones in the same way as endometrial tissue inside the uterus: they grow, break down, and bleed. The blood released by implants is irritating to the internal tissues and causes pain. Although some women with endometriosis do not have any symptoms, for others the symptoms of endometriosis include heavy bleeding during menstruation, abdominal and lower back pain, tenderness and pain in the pelvic area, diarrhea, constipation, and bleeding from the rectum.

Hormones and Endometriosis

The menstrual cycle is controlled by changing levels of hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, and prostaglandins regulate the buildup and the shedding of the endometrial lining of the uterus. Changes in these hormone levels, caused by pregnancy or by oral contraceptives, (birth control pills), can be helpful in relieving symptoms of endometriosis.

Most women with endometriosis are able to have children, and many are free of symptoms when they are pregnant. During pregnancy, the hormone balance that usually causes the monthly menstrual cycle changes. Instead of causing the endometrium to grow and then break down, different hormones work to take care of a developing fetus. Therefore, the implants may be free of the hormonal effects that cause the symptoms of endometriosis.

Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are mixtures of reproductive hormones that, when taken every day, act to change the hormone balance in the body to prevent pregnancy. Side effects of oral contraceptives include less cramping and lighter menstrual periods. By altering the bodys hormonal balance, they also can be effective in reducing the symptoms of endometriosis.

Endometriosis affects women mostly between the ages of 25 and 40. It is a major cause of infertility (the inability to conceive a child) in women, because endometrial implants may block the fallopian tubes or may prevent the eggs from leaving the ovaries, making it impossible for a women to get pregnant. About 30 to 40 percent of women who have endometriosis have difficulty becoming pregnant, and women with endometriosis represent about 10 to 15 percent of women who are infertile.

How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?

A doctor may suspect that a woman has endometriosis based on her history of symptoms. To diagnose endometriosis, the doctor uses a procedure called laparoscopy (lap-a-ROS-ko-pee), in which a viewing instrument (a laparoscope) is inserted into the abdomen or pelvic cavity through a small incision. This allows the doctor to examine the abdominal or pelvic cavity for pieces of endometrium that may have become implanted on surfaces where they usually are not found.

How Is Endometriosis Treated?

Endometriosis is treatable, but there is no cure for the condition. In mild cases, treatment may not be necessary. When treatment does become necessary, it may be complicated. The age of the woman, her general health, how severe her condition is, and whether she wants to have children all must be considered.

Hormone medications have been developed that can suppress the development of endometrial tissue or cause the fragments to wither away, which may take as long as six months. Other medications may be prescribed to relieve pain. Sometimes surgery is involved to remove some of the abnormal tissue. Older women not planning to have more children may consider having a hysterectomy (his-ter-EK-to-mee) to solve the problem. This is surgery to remove the uterus and sometimes other reproductive organs.

See also

Infertility

Menstrual Disorders

Pregnancy, Complications of

Resources

Book

Ballweg, Mary Lou. The Endometriosis Sourcebook. New York: Contemporary Books, 1995.

Organizations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration posts a fact sheet called On the Teen Scene: Endometriosis: Painful, but Treatable at its website. http://www.fda.gov/opacom/catalog/ots_endo.html

Endometriosis Association International Headquarters, 8585 North 76th Place, Milwaukee, WI 53223-2600. Telephone 800-992-3636

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Endometriosis." Complete Human Diseases and Conditions. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Endometriosis." Complete Human Diseases and Conditions. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis

"Endometriosis." Complete Human Diseases and Conditions. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis

endometriosis

endometriosis (en-doh-mee-tri-oh-sis) n. the presence of endometrial tissue at sites in the pelvis outside the uterus or, rarely, throughout the body. Symptoms typically include pelvic pain, severe dysmenorrhoea, dyspareunia, and infertility.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"endometriosis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"endometriosis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/endometriosis

"endometriosis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/endometriosis

endometriosis

endometriosis Gynaecological disorder in which tissue similar to the endometrium is found in other parts of the pelvic cavity. It is treated with analgesics, hormone preparations or surgery.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"endometriosis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"endometriosis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis

"endometriosis." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/endometriosis