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Endometriosis is a female health disorder that occurs when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body. This can lead to pain, irregular bleeding, and problems getting pregnant .

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Every month, a woman's ovaries produce hormones that tell the cells lining the uterus (womb) to swell and get thicker. The body removes these extra cells from the womb lining (endometrium) when you get your period.
If these cells (called endometrial cells) implant and grow outside the uterus, endometriosis results. The growths are called endometrial tissue implants. Women with endometriosis typically have tissue implants on the ovaries, bowel, rectum, bladder, and on the lining of the pelvic area. They can occur in other areas of the body, too.
Unlike the endometrial cells found in the uterus, the tissue implants outside the uterus stay in place when you get your period. They sometimes bleed a little bit. They grow again when you get your next period. This ongoing process leads to pain and other symptoms of endometriosis.
The cause of endometriosis is unknown. One theory is that the endometrial cells shed when you get your period travel backwards through the fallopian tubes into the pelvis, where they implant and grow. This is called retrograde menstruation. This backwards menstrual flow occurs in many women, but researchers think the immune system may be different in women with endometriosis.
Endometriosis is common. Sometimes, it may run in the family. Although endometriosis is typically diagnosed between ages 25 - 35, the condition probably begins about the time that regular menstruation begins.
A woman who has a mother or sister with endometriosis is much more likely to develop endometriosis than other women. You are more likely to develop endometriosis if you:
  • Started your period at a young age
  • Never had children
  • Have frequent periods or they last 7 or more days
  • Closed hymen, which blocks the flow of menstrual blood during the period

Symptoms

Pain is the main symptom of endometriosis. A woman with endometriosis may have:
  • Painful periods
  • Pain in the lower abdomen before and during menstruation
  • Cramps for a week or two before menstruation and during menstruation; cramps may be steady and range from dull to severe)
  • Pain during or following sexual intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements
  • Pelvic or low back pain that may occur at any time during the menstrual cycle
Note: There may be no symptoms. Some women with a large number of tissue implants in their pelvis have no pain at all, while some women with milder disease have severe pain.