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Endometriosis is a condition in which endometrial tissue, which normally should only be found in the uterine lining, forms in other organs of a woman’s reproductive or endocrine system. The condition varies in severity and can cause cramps, pain, irregular menstrual bleeding, bowel, and bladder problems. Endometriosis may interfere with fertility. 

Diagnosing endometriosis can be challenging because pain and bleeding can be attributed to other conditions. Laparoscopy is considered to be the gold standard for diagnosis. A pelvic exam, the CA-125 blood test, and imaging tests, such as ultrasound and MRI, may also be used.

The discomfort can be managed with pain medication, and hormone therapy or surgery can reduce the overgrowth of endometrial tissue. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, endometriosis affects more than 11% of women between age 15 and 44.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes endometriosis?

    Endometriosis is caused by the formation of endometrial tissue in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, pelvis, bladder, rectum, intestines, and/or vagina. Often, the out of place endometrial tissue cycles between proliferating and breaking down during phases of the menstrual cycle, leading to periodic cramps, swelling, and bleeding. It’s now known what predisposes a woman to develop endometriosis, and it is believed to be associated with environmental and hereditary factors.

  • How is endometriosis diagnosed?

    Endometriosis is considered as a possible cause of episodic cramping, pain, swelling, and/or bleeding, especially when the symptoms are more severe or widespread than expected with menstruation. A pelvic examination or imaging tests like a pelvic ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan can identify endometrial tissue outside the uterus, but often, a surgical biopsy is necessary to definitively identify the condition.

  • Is endometriosis genetic?

    Endometriosis does tend to run in families, but the exact hereditary pattern and the specific genes that could be responsible for the condition are not known. It is believed that a hereditary predisposition could make you more prone to endometriosis and that certain factors—being underweight and having a history of abdominal surgery—may increase the risk.

  • Can you get pregnant with endometriosis?

    Endometriosis can interfere with fertility, and the condition increases the risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications. However, you can get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy when you have endometriosis. Lifestyle strategies like a healthy diet are important. And often, hormonal treatment, intrauterine insemination, or in vitro fertilization are used to facilitate pregnancy.

  • What does endometriosis look like?

    Endometriosis does not cause visible changes in a woman’s appearance, and it doesn’t cause a change in the appearance of menstrual bleeding. However, the endometrial tissue often appears as cystic lesions when viewed with diagnostic medical imaging tests. And, when viewed directly during surgery, endometriosis has a characteristic appearance of bluish, black, reddish, or white lesions that look “burned.”

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Page Sources
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  1. National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Risk in American Women. Updated October 3, 2019.

  2. Jerman LF, Hey-Cunningham AJ. The role of the lymphatic system in endometriosis: a comprehensive review of the literature. Biol Reprod. 2015 Mar;92(3):64. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.114.124313.

Additional Reading