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What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis (pronounced: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-sis) happens when tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium.

Most often, this tissue grows on the:

  • ovaries
  • fallopian tubes
  • outer surface of the uterus
  • ligaments that support the uterus
  • bladder

Doctors don't know the exact cause of endometriosis.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Endometriosis?

Very painful menstrual cramps is the most common symptom of endometriosis. The growths outside the uterus swell and bleed with the menstrual cycle, just as the endometrium does. When the blood has nowhere to go, it can get trapped. This irritates the surrounding areas, causing pain. Over time, scars can form.

Other symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • heavy periods
  • large clots bigger than the size of a dime
  • pelvic or back pain
  • pain when peeing
  • bowel problems like diarrhea, constipation, and pain or blood when going to the bathroom
  • pain with sex
  • not being able to get pregnant

How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed and Treated?

Lots of people get period pain and the other symptoms listed above that aren't due to endometriosis. So diagnosing the condition can be hard. Doctors will ask questions and do an exam. They also might order an ultrasound. They might order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

If the doctor thinks someone has endometriosis, the first step is to treat it with pain relievers, like ibuprofen, and hormone therapy like some types of birth control. Hormone therapy decreases bleeding, and as a result, eases pain.

If symptoms are severe or don't improve over 3–6 months of medical treatment, the doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery, also called laparoscopy (pronounced: la-puh-RAS-kuh-pee).

In laparoscopy, a surgeon inserts a thin tube with a camera through a tiny cut in the skin. The surgeon looks for the growths. They might also do a biopsy (take a small sample of to study).

Laparoscopy is also a way to treat endometriosis because the surgeon can remove growths in the abdomen and pelvis. Sometimes, the surgeon will place an intrauterine device (IUD) to deliver hormones. After surgery, most people have less pain.

Surgery is not a cure. But when combined with hormone therapy, like birth control pills, the birth control shot, or an IUD, it can help control pain and prevent endometriosis from getting worse.

What Else Can I Do?

To help relieve period pain, you can try:

  • Heat. Put a heating pad or heat patch on your lower belly or take or a warm bath.
  • Exercise. Exercising during your period may help ease menstrual cramps.
  • Massage. Massaging your belly and lower back may decrease pain.
  • Getting more sleep. Extra sleep in the week you're expecting your period helps with period mood changes.
  • Eating a balanced diet. More fruits, vegetables, and lean protein help ease period bloating and pain.
  • Drinking water. Drinking enough water can help lessen period bloating.
  • Meditation and mindful movement, like yoga or tai chi, can help you relax.

Reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date Reviewed: Oct 1, 2020

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