Endometriosis

The inside of a woman’s uterus is lined with tissue called the endometrium. Endometriosis is an often painful condition in which tissue that closely resembles endometrium grows outside of the uterus, potentially affecting nearby structures such as the:

  • Ovaries
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Supportive ligaments around the uterus
  • Lining of the pelvic cavity
  • Spaces between the uterus, bladder and rectum

Endometriosis Causes

Endometriosis is relatively common among women of childbearing age—in fact, this condition affects about 2% to 10% of women between the ages of 25 and 40 in the United States. The exact cause of endometriosis isn’t fully understood, but many physicians believe that misdirected menstrual blood (retrograde menstruation) is to blame. Other theories include hormonal changes, problems with the lymphatic system, a weak immune system and exposure to certain toxins.

What triggers endometriosis isn’t clear, but researchers have identified several risk factors for this condition. You may have a greater likelihood of experiencing endometriosis if you:

  • Started your period before age 11
  • Have heavy periods that last longer than 7 days
  • Are closely related to someone who has endometriosis
  • Have never given birth

Endometriosis Symptoms

Some women with endometriosis don’t have any noticeable symptoms. However, most women experience one or more of the following:

  • Pelvic pain, often before, during or after menstruation
  • Difficulty getting pregnant (infertility)
  • Especially painful period cramps
  • Pain after or during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding in between menstrual periods
  • Abdominal pain
  • Digestive problems, including painful bowel movements
  • Fatigue

It’s important to promptly speak with a medical professional if you have one or more signs of endometriosis, as an early diagnosis can lead to faster relief from discomfort and easier management of symptoms.

Endometriosis Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing endometriosis is usually a pelvic exam, during which a physician will feel for abnormalities around the abdomen and uterus. Following an exam and review of symptoms, one or more of the following tests may be recommended:

  • Ultrasound imaging to create pictures of the reproductive organs
  • An MRI scan to produce detailed images of certain tissues and organs
  • A laparoscopy to view the inside of the abdomen and obtain a tissue sample

Endometriosis Treatments

Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute is home to a multidisciplinary team of gynecologists, obstetricians, reproductive endocrinologists and other experts who help women with endometriosis achieve world-class outcomes. Depending on each patient’s unique goals and the severity of her case, endometriosis treatment may involve:

  • Pain-relieving medication
  • Hormone therapies such as birth control pills and progestin therapy
  • Surgical removal of excess uterine tissue and/or affected organs