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What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that is normally only in your uterus grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis causes tissue that should be shed during a monthly period to grow on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, or other organs. Organs and tissue may stick together and cause inflammation and pain.

What increases my risk of endometriosis?

Caregivers do not know exactly what causes endometriosis. The following may increase your risk:

  • Increased exposure to hormones: You are exposed to more hormones if you started your period early. Exposure also increases if you were older than 35 when you had your first child. Menopause after age 55 also increases your exposure to hormones.
  • Family history: Your mother or sister had endometriosis.
  • Genetic: You may have been born with a narrow cervix or vagina. You could also have been born without any opening of your cervix or vagina. These may block the passage of normal menstrual tissue.
  • Immune system: A weak immune system may increase the risk of endometriosis.

What are the signs and symptoms of endometriosis?

  • Abdominal pain before or during your period
  • Painful periods
  • Feeling full or bloated
  • Dizziness or fatigue
  • Heavy periods, or vaginal bleeding at times other than during your monthly period
  • Infertility (being unable to get pregnant)
  • Lower back pain or painful bowel movements during your monthly periods
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Pain when you urinate

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you and ask you questions about other medical conditions you may have. He may ask about your menstrual history, pregnancies, and if you have a family member with endometriosis. You may also have one or more of the following tests:

  • Pelvic exam: This exam lets your caregiver check the size and shape of your uterus, cervix, and ovaries. This may help to find areas of endometriosis.
  • Vaginal ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to show pictures of the inside of your uterus (womb) and ovaries. A small tube is placed into your vagina. Pictures of your uterus and ovaries are seen on a TV-like screen.
  • Laparoscopy: This is surgery to look inside your abdomen. Caregivers may remove a piece of tissue from your ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowels, or other organs. The tissues are sent to a lab for tests to see if endometriosis is present.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. An MRI may show caregivers where you have endometriosis. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is endometriosis treated?

  • Hormone therapy: This may help shrink endometrial tissue and decrease pain. You may be given birth control pills, androgen hormone, or medicine that makes your body produce less of certain hormones.
  • Surgery: Caregivers may suggest exploratory surgery to learn if you have endometriosis. Your caregiver may remove endometrial tissue that is growing in the wrong places.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Use heat: Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on your abdomen for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Use a heating pad (set on low) or take a warm bath.
  • Exercise: This may help reduce symptoms, such as pain. Ask your primary healthcare provider or gynecologist about the best exercise plan for you.

What are the risks of endometriosis?

Surgery to treat endometriosis may cause bleeding or an infection. If endometriosis is not treated, you may have difficulty getting pregnant. Pain may cause you to miss work or school.

Where can I find more information?

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    P.O. Box 70620
    Washington , DC 20024-9998
    Phone: 1- 202 - 638-5577
    Phone: 1- 800 - 673-8444
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your symptoms return after treatment.
  • You have heavy or unusual vaginal bleeding.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe abdominal or lower back pain that does not go away after you take pain medicine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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