What is Endometriosis?

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue resembling endometrium (the lining of the uterus) grows outside the uterus. It can grow in other organs inside the pelvis and in other parts of the body. This tissue acts the same way that endometrial tissue does: it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this tissue has no way to exit the body, it becomes trapped, which causes a chronic inflammatory reaction that may result in the formation of scar tissue.

People can experience endometriosis differently but common symptoms include painful periods, painful sex, chronic pelvic pain, painful bowel movements, painful urination, fatigue and infertility. Symptoms can start in adolescence and for some people improve with menopause. Endometriosis can impact a person’s ability to engage in everyday activities and overall quality of life.

The cause of endometriosis is not well understood and diagnosis can be difficult. Evaluation can start with imaging like ultrasounds or MRIs. Surgical procedures can be used to confirm diagnosis, but recent guidelines advise confirming a diagnosis based on physical examinations, imaging and symptoms to avoid delaying treatment. There is some evidence that early intervention may decrease the risk of chronic pain.

Management of endometriosis can be complex. Treatment can vary depending on symptoms, lesions, and a person’s desired outcome.  Common medication options are hormonal contraceptives, anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen or Naproxen, and other pain killers.  Surgical procedures can remove endometriosis lesions and scar tissue, but they can grow back. Some may also choose to combine different types of treatment.  Research is being done to find other effective treatments, but there is currently no treatment that cures endometriosis.

If you have painful periods or other chronic pelvic pain, especially if you have to miss school, work or other activities, talk to your healthcare provider about investigating the cause. For more information about endometriosis research and advocacy in Canada, check out EndoAct Canada.  If you are living with endometriosis, Endometriosis Events and the Endometriosis Network Canada provide information and support.

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