What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis (endo) is a puzzling hormonal and immune disease. The name endometriosis comes from the word endometrium, which is the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus and builds up and sheds each month during the menstrual cycle. In endo, tissue like the endometrium is found outside the uterus, in other areas of the body. In these locations outside the uterus, the endometrial tissue develops into what are called "nodules," "tumors," "lesions," "implants," or "growths." Like the lining of the uterus, endometrial growths usually respond to the hormones of the menstrual cycle. They build up tissue each month and then break down. The result is internal bleeding, degeneration of the blood and tissue shed from the growths, inflammation of the surrounding areas, and formation of scar tissue (adhesions).
What causes endo?
The cause of endo is not known with certainty, but a number of theories have been advanced. Research has shown that environmental toxins such as dioxins and PCBs, which act like hormones in the body and damage the immune system, can cause endo.
What are the symptoms of endo?
The most common symptoms of endo are pain before and during periods (usually worse than "normal" menstrual cramps), pain during or after sexual activity, fatigue, infertility, and heavy bleeding. Other symptoms may include painful bowel movements with periods, lower back pain with periods, diarrhea and/or constipation and other intestinal upset with periods, and infertility. Infertility affects approximately 30 to 40 percent of women with endo and is a common result with progression of the disease.
Although relatively rare, it is possible for endo lesions to become cancerous. In addition, recent research has indicated women and girls with endo are at a greater risk of six cancers: ovarian, breast, brain, and thyroid cancers, as well as melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What conditions can overlap with endo?
Misdiagnoses for women with endo include pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer, and psychological labels including hypochondria, somatization disorder, and stress.
Many women with endo also experience a range of immune disorders. Conditions known to overlap with endometriosis include:
Women with endo are also at a higher risk for certain autoimmune diseases, such as:
For more information about endometriosis, please visit www.endometriosisassn.org .