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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 9, 2024.

What is endometriosis?

Harvard Health Publishing

Endometrial tissue lines the inside of the uterus. In endometriosis, the same type of tissue also grows in places outside of the uterus.

Implants or patches of endometriosis may develop in the:

Misplaced endometrial tissue behaves like endometrial tissue in the uterus. It responds to the monthly rise and fall of female hormones. At the time of menstruation, endometrial tissue outside the uterus also can ooze blood, and cause pelvic or abdominal pain.

If the misplaced endometrial tissue enlarges to cover or grow into the ovaries, or if it blocks the fallopian tubes, it can it can interfere with a woman's fertility by blocking the passage of an egg from the ovaries into the uterus.

Endometrial tissue on the ovaries may form into large fluid-filled cysts. These are called endometriomas.


A woman may have an increased risk of endometriosis if:

A woman's risk may be lower than average if:

Symptoms of endometriosis

Many women with endometriosis do not have any symptoms from it. Those who have symptoms may experience:

Diagnosing endometriosis

The doctor will review:

This will be followed by a physical exam and a pelvic exam.

During the pelvic exam, your doctor may be able to feel the following signs of endometriosis.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may need to do pelvic laparoscopic surgery. In this surgery, doctors operate through two or three tiny incisions. The surgery can identify endometrial tissue inside your pelvis or abdomen. Abnormal tissue may be removed for biopsy during the surgery.

Expected duration of endometriosis

Without treatment, endometriosis is a long-term problem. It usually lasts until menopause. After menopause, areas of misplaced endometrial tissue tend to become smaller, and are less likely to cause symptoms. That is particularly true if your symptoms have come only during menstrual periods.

Preventing endometriosis

There is no way to prevent endometriosis.

The condition may temporarily stop progressing if you:

Treating endometriosis

Several treatment options are available.

Pain management

For mild pelvic or abdominal pain, you may try a nonprescription pain medication. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). If this doesn't help, your doctor may suggest a prescription-strength nonsteroidal pain reliever.

Stronger medications that contain a mild narcotic are available. But narcotics pose a risk of drug dependence and addiction. They are prescribed only when other pain medications fail or can't be used because of side effects or allergic reactions.

Treatments that control hormone levels

Some treatments relieve pain by controlling levels of female hormones, particularly if your symptoms occur mainly or only during menstrual periods. These include:

Conservative surgical treatments

During laparoscopy, your doctor will destroy small areas of extra endometrial tissue that are implanted outside the uterus. He may burn them away or use a laser to vaporize them. Your doctor also may trim away tissue that is displacing your pelvic organs. These procedures often can be done during a diagnostic laparoscopy session.

For more extensive endometriosis, you may need traditional abdominal surgery. This is done through a larger incision. The larger incision provides more room to reach and treat all areas of endometriosis inside your pelvis and abdomen.


The doctor may treat endometriosis by removing the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Hysterectomy is a last resort when other measures have failed. It is only performed in women with severe disabling pain who no longer want to become pregnant.

The treatment option that is best for you depends on several factors. These include the severity of your symptoms and your plans for pregnancy.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When to call a professional

Call your doctor or gynecologist if you experience:

Also contact your doctor if you have been unable to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse.


The outlook is good, especially when endometriosis is diagnosed and treated early. Medical and surgical treatments can relieve the pain of endometriosis in most women.

Even without treatment, the majority of women with mild endometriosis eventually can become pregnant. Many women who have laparoscopic surgery to improve their fertility become pregnant.

Symptoms of endometriosis go away after menopause, as long as estrogen treatment is not used.

Additional info

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

Endometriosis Association

Learn more about Endometriosis

Treatment options

Care guides guides (external)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.