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Endometriosis is a fairly common disorder in which the tissues that normally line your uterus, called endometrium, are found growing outside of the organ, either on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer surface of your uterus, or along the tissues that line your pelvis.
Even when it grows outside the uterus, endometrium still acts as it normally would: It thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because these displaced tissues, or implants, have no way to exit your body, they can cause the formation of scar tissue, ovarian cysts, and adhesions. Common endometriosis symptoms include:
Yes. In addition to causing chronic pelvic pain that can be debilitating and difficult to manage, endometriosis can cause other health complications. Women with endometriosis have a slightly higher than average rate of ovarian cancer.
Infertility is another possible complication: Up to half of all women with endometriosis have difficulty conceiving, while about 40% of women with infertility also have endometriosis. That’s because the chronic inflammation caused by endometriosis can damage sperm and eggs, hinder 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 with time.
Endometriosis can’t be cured, but there are a variety of treatment options to help alleviate its symptoms and any related problems. If you have mild pelvic pain, you may find that over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, provide all the relief you need.
If you aren’t planning to become pregnant, taking hormonal birth control or some other hormonal medication can help keep the condition from worsening. Hormonal medications help slow the growth of endometrial tissues, and may also prevent the formation of new adhesions. Extended cycle or continuous cycle hormonal birth control, which is available as a pill or an injection, can help stop bleeding and reduce pelvic pain.
For more severe cases, the surgical removal of displaced endometrial tissues may be the only viable option for pain relief and improved fertility. Because the problem usually re-develops over time, using hormonal medications after surgery can help delay its return.