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In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments, research studies and practical information about endometriosis. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step towards becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.
Endometriosis is an oestrogen-dependent condition in which tissue that normally grows on the inside of the uterus grows outside of it instead, often causing inflammation, significant pain and sometimes infertility. This tissue growth usually affects the ovaries, bowel or pelvic lining, but it can reach beyond the pelvic region as well.
Normally, endometrial tissue in the uterus thickens, breaks down and is expelled as bleeding during the menstrual cycle. In endometriosis, the tissue continues to thicken and break down as it normally would, but it can’t be expelled. Instead, it irritates nearby tissues, causing scar tissue, cysts and adhesions (places where abnormal tissues grow so that they stick to each other).
It is not known for certain what causes endometriosis, but one theory is so-called “retrograde menstruation”, in which menstrual blood containing tissue from the uterine lining (called “endometrial tissue”) flows back into the pelvis instead of out of the body. The displaced tissues then adhere to the pelvic walls and organs, where they continue to grow, thicken and bleed during each menstrual cycle. Other theories are that the endometrial cells develop outside the uterus from unspecialised cells capable of renewing themselves (so-called “stem cells”).
Some scientists think endometriosis may be an immune system disorder, meaning that the body fails to recognise and destroy endometrial cells that are growing outside of the uterus.
In endometriosis, the primary symptom is chronic pelvic pain, especially during menstruation, but it can also occur in-between menstrual periods. Other symptoms can include:
The pelvis near the uterus is the part of the body most commonly affected by endometriosis, although women may also notice pain or other symptoms, especially those related to urination or bowel movements.
The severity of endometriosis symptoms can differ widely from woman to woman. Many different factors can affect an individual's health and the course of the disease, but some of the more troublesome complications include the following:
For most women, regardless of having endometriosis or not, exercise, healthy eating and good sleeping habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to an enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.
Getting regular exercise may help improve symptoms of endometriosis as well as increase general well-being.
Good nutrition is important for all women. Some people believe that maintaining a healthy weight and following a diet that helps keep hormones in balance can help with endometriosis. Additionally, a diet that is rich in fibre can help to prevent painful straining during bowel movements.
Natural pain relief
Warm baths and heating pads can help relax uterine and pelvic muscles, relieving cramps.
Interventions for endometriosis can differ widely from woman to woman. Therefore, treatment plans are usually tailored to each woman's unique circumstances. Women should work closely with their medical professionals to create individualised treatment plans.
The first treatments that a doctor may prescribe for a woman with endometriosis are oral contraceptives and/or pain medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, for example, ibuprofen) to relieve pain. These medications are usually effective for the management of menstrual pain, but may not be effective for non-menstrual pain. In addition, these medications may lose their effectiveness over time. The second medical treatments include drugs that help control the effects of oestrogen (oestrogen is the hormone from the ovary that fuels growth and activity of endometriosis tissue) such as progestogens, or that lower or stop oestrogen production, so called “gonadotropin hormone agonists”.
Women with endometriosis who want to become pregnant or who suffer from pain may choose to have a surgery called laparoscopy to remove as much of the endometriosis tissue as possible without removing the uterus and ovaries. After such surgery, however, endometriosis and pain return.
Hysterectomy, or removal of the entire uterus, is the last treatment option for severe endometriosis pain, but removing the ovaries is necessary to completely stop the growth of the abnormal tissues that cause endometrial pain. Hysterectomy is a major surgery that ends one’s ability to have children and brings on menopause (if the ovaries are removed).
Physiotherapy can be helpful in some forms of chronic pelvic pain associated with endometriosis. Also, because living with chronic pelvic pain can be stressful and upsetting, studies have shown that in many cases, it may be helpful to work with a trained counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Your doctor can provide more information about various treatments for chronic pelvic pain.
Please note that the information on this website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for seeking medical advice or treatment from a healthcare professional. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a medical condition or health problem. Speak to a healthcare provider if you have any questions about your health, medical condition, symptoms or treatment options.
UK Charity that works to improve the lives of people affected by endometriosis and to decrease the impact it has on those with the condition and their families and friends.
The Endometriosis Association is an independent self-help non-profit organisation for women with endometriosis, doctors and others. It is a recognised authority in its field, with its goal being to work towards finding a cure for the disease as well as providing education, support and research.
Mayo Clinic's mission is to inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research. Mayo Clinic’s primary value is "The needs of the patient come first."