Endometriosis can be a painful and debilitating condition. It can be difficult to diagnose, with symptoms that may seem like they could be caused by something else. Endometriosis is often frustrating for women who are living with it, in part because others don’t understand the effect it can have on daily life and the treatments to relieve symptoms may have varying results.

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What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally lines the uterus, known as endometrium, grows in areas outside the uterus, such as on the ovaries or fallopian tubes. This displaced tissue continues to act as it would inside the uterus, thickening, breaking down, and bleeding during menstrual cycles. The body doesn’t have a way to remove the displaced tissue as it goes through this cycle, so the tissue becomes trapped. Cysts may form, and surrounding tissue can become irritated. Scar tissue can eventually develop along with adhesions, which are abnormal bands that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other.

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What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain (during menstrual periods, during and after sex, with bowel movements or urination)
  • Bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
  • Infertility, or not being able to get pregnant
  • Stomach problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea, especially during menstrual periods

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What factors may contribute to endometriosis?

Women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to get endometriosis, but the following factors may put you at increased risk:

  • Never giving birth
  • Heavy menstrual periods that last longer than seven days
  • Short menstrual cycles (27 days or fewer)
  • A family member (mother, aunt, sister) with endometriosis
  • A health problem that blocks the normal flow of menstrual blood from your body during your period
  • Starting your period at an early age
  • Going through menopause at an older age
  • Low body mass index

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How is endometriosis diagnosed?

Your doctor may perform or recommend one or more of the following procedures to determine if you have endometriosis:

  • Pelvic exam
  • Imaging test
  • Laparoscopy, a type of surgery

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How is endometriosis treated?

There is no cure for endometriosis, but the following treatments may help relieve symptoms:

  • Pain medications
  • Hormone treatment
  • Surgery

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