Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of cells (endometrial cells) similar to those that form the inside or lining the tissue of the uterus, but in a location outside of the uterus. Endometrial cells are the lining cells of the uterus and are cells that are shed each month during menstruation. Endometriosis occurs when cells like the lining of the uterus grow in or on tissues outside the uterus; these areas are called endometriosis implants.
Endometriosis affects women in their reproductive years. The exact prevalence of endometriosis is not known, since many women may have the condition and have no symptoms. Endometriosis is estimated to affect over one million women (estimates range from 3% to 18% of women) in the United States. It is one of the leading causes of pelvic pain and reasons for laparoscopic surgery and hysterectomy in this country. Estimates suggest that 20% to 50% of women being treated for infertility have endometriosis, and up to 80% of women with chronic pelvic pain may be affected.
The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain, often associated with your menstrual period. Although many women experience cramping during their menstrual period, women with endometriosis typically describe menstrual pain that's far worse than usual. They also tend to report that the pain has increased over time. Endometriosis is sometimes mistaken for other conditions that can cause pelvic pain, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or ovarian cysts. It may be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes bouts of diarrhea, constipation and abdominal cramping. IBS can accompany endometriosis, which can complicate the diagnosis.
Treatment for endometriosis is usually with medications or surgery. Supplemental hormones are sometimes effective in reducing or eliminating the pain of endometriosis. That's because the rise and fall of hormones during the menstrual cycle causes endometrial implants to thicken, break down and bleed. Hormone medication may slow the growth and prevent new implants of endometrial tissue. In severe cases of endometriosis, surgery to remove the uterus and cervix (total hysterectomy) as well as both ovaries may be the best treatment. Hysterectomy alone is not effective — the estrogen your ovaries produce can stimulate any remaining endometriosis and cause pain to persist. Hysterectomy is typically considered a last resort, especially for women still in their reproductive years. You can't get pregnant after a hysterectomy. Danazol is the drug suppresses the growth of the endometrium by blocking the production of ovarian-stimulating hormones, preventing menstruation and the symptoms of endometriosis. Medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera) is an injectable drug effective in halting menstruation and the growth of endometrial implants, thereby relieving the signs and symptoms of endometriosis.