Endometriosis is a chronic disease that occurs primarily in a woman's reproductive system. Ordinarily, the uterus is lined with a tissue called the endometrium. But when this tissue grows outside of the uterus and on the fallopian tubes, the ovaries or elsewhere, it is known as endometriosis.
The primary symptoms of endometriosis are various types of pain in the abdomen, in the intestines, during intercourse or during menstruation. Digestive problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea and painful bowel movements, also commonly occur. Endometriosis can also cause bleeding between periods and can even lead to infertility over time. The growths of endometrium primarily occur in the reproductive system, though in rare instances they can affect other parts of the body.
Though doctors aren’t sure why some women get endometriosis and others don’t, there are several theories about the condition. There may be a genetic component to the disease, and some evidence indicates that exposure to certain environmental toxins might increase a woman's risk. Other theories include problems with the immune system or a hormonal imbalance leading to endometriosis.
Endometriosis cannot be cured, but women who have it have several options for managing the disease. Pain medications that range from over-the-counter options to prescription drugs are the first line of defense for women with mild to moderate symptoms. Hormonal treatments such as birth control pills can also help manage endometriosis symptoms, though these are not an option for women who want to become pregnant.
Surgery is the final line of treatment for women with more severe endometriosis. These procedures can range from a laparoscopy to remove excess tissue to a total hysterectomy, which involves removal of the uterus and sometimes the ovaries as well.
SOURCES: U.S. Office on Women's Health; Endometriosis Association