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Endometriosis


Symptoms:

Pain is the main symptom of endometriosis. A woman with endometriosis may have:

  • Painful periods
  • Pain in the lower abdomen before and during menstruation
  • Cramps for a week or two before menstruation and during menstruation; cramps may be steady and range from dull to severe)
  • Pain during or following sexual intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements
  • Pelvic or low back pain that may occur at any time during the menstrual cycle

There may be no symptoms. Some women with a large number of tissue implants in their pelvis have no pain at all, while some women with milder disease have severe pain.

Treatment:

Treatment depends on the following factors:

  • Age
  • Severity of symptoms
  • Severity of disease
  • Whether you want children in the future

If you have mild symptoms and do not ever want children, you may choose to have regular exams every 6 - 12 months so the doctor can make sure the disease isn't getting worse. You can manage your symptoms by using:

  • Exercise and relaxation techniques
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or prescription painkillers to relieve cramping and pain.

For other women, treatment options include:

  • Medications to control pain
  • Hormone medications to stop the endometriosis from getting worse
  • Surgery to remove the areas of endometriosis or the entire uterus and ovaries

Treatment to stop the endometriosis from getting worse often involves using birth control pills continuously for 6 - 9 months to stop you from having periods and create a pregnancy-like state. This is called pseudopregnancy. This therapy uses estrogen and progesterone birth control pills. It relieves most endometriosis symptoms. However, it does not prevent scarring or reverse physical changes that have already occurred as the result of the endometriosis.

Other hormonal treatments may include:

  • Progesterone pills or injections. However, side effects can be bothersome and include weight gain and depression.
  • Gonadotropin-agonist medications such as nafarelin acetate (Synarel) and Depo Lupron to stop the ovaries from producing estrogen and produce a menopause-like state. Side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. Treatment is usually limited to 6 months because it can lead to bone density loss. It may be extended up to 1 year in some cases.

Surgery may be recommended if you have severe pain that does not get better with other treatments. Surgery may include:

  • Pelvic laparoscopy or laparotomy to diagnose endometriosis and remove all endometrial implants and scar tissue (adhesions).
  • Hysterectomy to remove the womb (uterus) if you have severe symptoms and do not want to have children in the future. One or both ovaries and fallopian tubes may also be removed. If you do not have both of ovaries removed at the time of hysterectomy, your symptoms may return.
Expectations (prognosis):

Hormone therapy and laparoscopy cannot cure endometriosis. However, these treatments can help relieve some or all symptoms in many women for years.

Removal of the womb (uterus), fallopian tubes, and both ovaries (a hysterectomy) gives you the best chance for a cure. Rarely, the condition can return.

Complications:

Endometriosis can lead to problems getting pregnant (infertility). Not all women, especially those with mild endometriosis, will have infertility. Laparoscopy to remove scarring related to the condition may help improve your chances of becoming pregnant. If it does not, fertility treatments should be considered.

Other complications of endometriosis include:

  • Long-term (chronic) pelvic pain that interferes with social and work activities
  • Large cysts in the pelvis (called endometriomas) that may break open (rupture)

In a few cases, endometriosis implants may cause blockages of the gastrointestinal or urinary tracts. This is rare.

Very rarely, cancer may develop in the areas of endometriosis after menopause.

Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of endometriosis
  • Back pain or other symptoms come back after endometriosis is treated

Consider getting screened for endometriosis if your mother or sister has been diagnosed with endometriosis, or if you are unable to become pregnant after trying for 1 year.

Prevention:

Birth control pills may help to prevent or slow down the development of the endometriosis.

References:

Lobo R. Endometriosis: etiology, pathology, diagnosis, management. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap. 19.

Brown J, Pan A, Hart RJ. Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogues for pain associated with endometriosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Dec 8;(12):CD008475.

Giudice LC. Clinical practice. Endometriosis. N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 24;362(25):2389-98.

de Ziegler D, Borghese B, Chapron C. Endometriosis and infertility: pathophysiology and management. Lancet. 2010 Aug 28;376(9742):730-8.

ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 110: noncontraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives. Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Jan;115(1):206-18.


Review Date: 7/25/2011
Reviewed By: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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