Overview of endometriosis
Endometriosis is a female reproductive disorder in which the endometrial tissue that lines the inside of the uterus (or “womb”) grows outside of the uterus.
Endometrial tissue can grow in the ovaries, bladder, bowel, on the outside of the uterus, and elsewhere on the inside of your abdomen.
Endometriosis can cause heavy, painful menstrual periods and infertility, and is very common, affecting more than 1 in 10 women of reproductive age.
If you have uncomfortable symptoms from endometriosis, gynecologists at Dignity Health can provide the trusted women’s health services you need. Find a Doctor to arrange a consultation at a Dignity Health location near you today.
Endometriosis symptoms are different for every woman. It’s possible to have endometriosis without any noticeable symptoms.
In other cases, endometrial tissue can swell and bleed along with your monthly menstrual cycle. This can lead to swelling and pain if the blood cannot escape your body.
Common symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Lower abdominal pain
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Painful bowel movements or urination during menstrual periods
- Pain during intercourse
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. High estrogen levels in the body seem to make endometriosis more likely. Endometriosis may also be linked to your genes because the condition runs in families.
Problems with your immune system may also lead to endometriosis. If your immune system isn’t working at its full level or something goes wrong, it may not identify and destroy endometrial tissue that is outside of the uterus.
Another potential cause is previous uterus surgery.
While the exact causes of endometriosis aren’t fully understood, several factors may increase your likelihood of developing endometriosis. The most significant risk factor is being a woman in your 30s to 40s. Other risk factors include:
- Genetics/family history (having a mother, aunt, or grandmother with endometriosis)
- Not having children
- Having a higher body fat percentage (which increases your estrogen levels)
- High caffeine or alcohol consumption (both substances can raise the level of estrogen in your body)
- Having consistently short menstrual cycles (with less than 27 days between cycles)
- Having consistently long periods (lasting more than seven days)
In addition to these risk factors, endometriosis has been linked to several other medical conditions, meaning that developing one condition puts you at higher risk for the other, and vice versa.
These conditions include:
- Allergies, asthma, and sensitivities to chemicals or foods
- Autoimmune disorders
- Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- Hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer
- Hormone replacement therapies with high estrogen content
- Previous surgery on the uterus
- Disorders or congenital disabilities affecting the reproductive organs
- Infertility (while the link between endometriosis and infertility remains unclear, about half of women with infertility also have endometriosis)
It’s not possible to prevent endometriosis entirely, but diet and other lifestyle choices can have an impact on hormones such as estrogen (a female sex hormone). Since the levels of estrogen in your body are linked to your risk of developing endometriosis, you can minimize your risk by limiting the level of estrogen in your body, for example by:
- Lowering your body fat levels through diet and exercise
- Avoiding excessive intake of substances that can raise estrogen, such as soybean products, caffeine, and alcohol
- Discussing hormonal contraceptive methods with your doctor, particularly if you have a family history of endometriosis
- Getting regular screenings with your doctor/OBGYN
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.