Endometriosis(en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs) happens when the lining of the uterus (womb) grows outside of the uterus. It may affect more than 11% of American women between 15 and 44.1 It is especially common among women in their 30s and 40s and may make it harder to get pregnant. Several different treatment options can help manage the symptoms and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Endometriosis, sometimes called "endo," is a common health problem in women. It gets its name from the word endometrium(en-doh-MEE-tree-um), the tissue that normally lines the uterus or womb. Endometriosis happens when this tissue grows outside of your uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn't belong.
Most often, endometriosis is found on the:
Other sites for growths can include the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder, or rectum. Rarely, endometriosis appears in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, brain, and skin.
Symptoms of endometriosis can include:
Endometriosis growths are benign (not cancerous). But they can still cause problems.
Endometriosis happens when tissue that is normally on the inside of your uterus or womb grows outside of your uterus or womb where it doesn't belong. Endometriosis growths bleed in the same way the lining inside of your uterus does every month — during your menstrual period. This can cause swelling and pain because the tissue grows and bleeds in an area where it cannot easily get out of your body.
The growths may also continue to expand and cause problems, such as:
Endometriosis is a common health problem for women. Some women do not have symptoms and are never diagnosed, so it is difficult to know how many women have endometriosis. Researchers think that at least 11% of women, or more than 6 ½ million women in the United States, have endometriosis.1
Endometriosis can happen in any girl or woman who has menstrual periods, but it is more common in women in their 30s and 40s.
You might be more likely to get endometriosis if you have:
No one knows for sure what causes this disease. Researchers are studying possible causes:
You can't prevent endometriosis. But you can reduce your chances of developing it by lowering the levels of the hormone estrogen in your body. Estrogen helps to thicken the lining of your uterus during your menstrual cycle.
To keep lower estrogen levels in your body, you can:
If you have symptoms of endometriosis, talk with your doctor. The doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and do or prescribe one or more of the following to find out if you have endometriosis:
There is no cure for endometriosis, but treatments are available for the symptoms and problems it causes. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control is generally the first step in treatment. This may include:
Hormonal treatment works only as long as it is taken and is best for women who do not have severe pain or symptoms.
If you are trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist. This medicine stops the body from making the hormones responsible for ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. This treatment causes a temporary menopause, but it also helps control the growth of endometriosis. Once you stop taking the medicine, your menstrual cycle returns, but you may have a better chance of getting pregnant.
Surgery is usually chosen for severe symptoms, when hormones are not providing relief or if you are having fertility problems. During the operation, the surgeon can locate any areas of endometriosis and may remove the endometriosis patches. After surgery, hormone treatment is often restarted unless you are trying to get pregnant.
Other treatments you can try, alone or with any of the treatments listed above, include:
Learn more about endometriosis treatments.
For some women, the painful symptoms of endometriosis improve after menopause. As the body stops making the hormone estrogen, the growths shrink slowly. However, some women who take menopausal hormone therapy may still have symptoms of endometriosis.
If you are having symptoms of endometriosis after menopause, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Yes. Many women with endometriosis get pregnant. But, you may find it harder to get pregnant. Endometriosis affects about one-half (50%) of women with infertility.6
No one knows exactly how endometriosis might cause infertility. Some possible reasons include:7
If you have endometriosis and are having trouble getting pregnant, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend treatments, such as surgery to remove the endometrial growths.7
Research shows a link between endometriosis and other health problems in women and their families. Some of these include:
For more information about endometriosis, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: February 13, 2017.
Content last reviewed: August 18, 2014.