One in ten women in the UK is affected by endometriosis. Endometriosis happens when the type of tissue that normally grows inside the womb also grows outside on other organs in the body.
It is most common in women in their 30s and 40s with symptoms usually improving during and after the menopause.
In most cases, endometriosis affects the: fallopian tubes, ovaries, outside surface of the womb and inside the pelvic cavity.
It can also affect the: vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder and rectum.
In very rare cases, it can also affect other parts of the body, including the lungs, skin and brain.
Endometriosis and fertility
Endometriosis can cause infertility, especially if it damages the ovaries or fallopian tubes, preventing fertilisation. It can be treated with medication or by keyhole surgery to remove damaged areas. Alternatively, you may be offered treatment with IVF.
Endometriosis is unlikely to cause problems once you are pregnant. In fact, being pregnant can sometimes reduce your symptoms (although they may come back once your periods return).
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
These may include:
- Very painful periods, often becoming worse as time goes on
- Lower back and pelvic pain
- Pain during/after sex
- Stomach pain, including pain when having bowel movements or urinating during periods. You may also have diarrhoea, bloating, constipation, or nausea during periods
- Spotting/bleeding between periods
- Fertility problems
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Endometriosis is diagnosed by:
- A pelvic examination: this is when the doctor will feel for larger affected areas, including cysts
- Pelvic ultrasound: this can show if the endometriosis has affected your ovaries, causing cysts
- Laparoscopy: this is the most effective way to check the extent of endometriosis inside your abdomen. It involves having a light anaesthetic, and then a thin tube with a camera is inserted through a tiny hole in your abdomen to examine the area
How is is endometriosis treated?
Although it is not yet possible to cure endometriosis, symptoms can be treated using:
- Painkillers: in some cases, over-the-counter pain relief can help or, if necessary, stronger prescription painkillers
- Hormone medication: this can include the contraceptive pill and other hormonal treatments
- Surgery: laparoscopy and laparotomy. The most commonly used type of surgery is laparoscopy which is usually combined with laser surgery to target and precisely remove the small growths in the pelvis or abdomen. Laparotomy involves making a larger cut in the abdomen and is used if the endometriosis is very extensive and involves very large cysts being removed.