The endometrium is the tissue that lines the inside of a woman’s uterus, or womb. When endometrial cells are found outside the uterus, the condition is known as endometriosis.
Endometrial tissue should only exist inside the uterus. But sometimes cells travel out of the uterus to other parts of the body through the blood stream, or cells in other parts of the body change into endometrial cells. Endometriosis most often occurs in the pelvis. But wherever they are located, endometrial cells respond to monthly hormone changes by bleeding. In the uterus, this blood becomes the monthly period or menstrual flow. Outside the uterus, the blood can irritate other tissues and cause scarring. Patches of endometrial tissue outside the uterus are called implants.
Symptoms of endometriosis
The primary symptom of endometriosis is pain, usually in the lower abdomen and pelvis. This pain is usually worst before and during the menstrual period. Endometrial implants may attach to any tissue in the pelvis, including the outside of the bladder, intestines, or ovaries. Implants may also invade an ovary and create a blood-filled pocket called an endometrioma. When these implants bleed, they can cause scarring on surrounding tissue which may take the form of bands of scar tissue that stretch between structures. These bands, called adhesions, can stretch between abdominal structures, such as from the bladder to the uterus, from an ovary to the wall of the abdomen, causing more pain.
Treatments for endometriosis vary depending on a woman’s symptoms, amount of pain, plans for future pregnancy, and age.
• Pain relievers – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to relieve pain and may be the only treatment needed if symptoms are mild and no future pregnancies are planned.
• Drugs – Hormones such as oral contraceptives can be used to limit the activity of the ovaries which can slow the growth of endometrial tissue. In some cases, drugs are used to simulate pregnancy which can help prevent endometriosis from getting worse.