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What is endometriosis?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Endometriosis causes inflammation and bleeding of the endometrium in different parts of your body. The endometrium is located in the uterus as an inner lining. During menstruation, the endometrial lining is shed along with blood. In an individual with endometriosis, the endometrial tissue is found in other parts of the body, like the fallopian tubes, lining in the pelvic cavity, or the ovaries, and continues to swell and bleed during menstruation. Its misplacement can cause heavy bleeding and pain.

Dr. Madeleine M. Castellanos, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Endometriosis is a condition found in women in which pieces of tissue that are similar to the endometrium (inside lining of the uterus) are found in and around the abdominal cavity. These pieces of endometrial tissue respond to the monthly hormones that are secreted so that, when a woman has her menstrual period, these tissues also bleed. Since the body considers blood inside the abdomen an irritant, it tries to wall off the endometrial tissue by forming scar tissue around it. Every monthly cycle brings on more and more scar tissue. This scar tissue builds on itself and can actually adhere different organs together, such as the ovary to the intestine, or the uterus to the bladder.

Scar tissue is what is responsible for the symptoms and the infertility associated with endometriosis. Since scar tissue has no elastic fibers in it, it does not stretch like the other tissues or skin of the body. Because of this, when a woman has any type of movement, the organs and tissues of the abdomen and pelvis accommodate themselves accordingly, but the scar tissue stays firm. It causes tugging and tension of whatever tissues or organs it happens to be stuck to. This results in pain for some women when they are playing sports, or just bending over.

Endometriosis is a noncancerous condition in which tissue similar to the endometrium (uterine lining) grows outside your uterus and adheres to other structures, most commonly in the pelvis, such as on the ovaries, bowel, fallopian tubes or bladder. Rarely it implants in other places, such as the liver, lungs, diaphragm and surgical sites.

When endometriosis tissue grows outside of the uterus, it continues to respond to hormonal signals—specifically estrogen—from the ovaries telling it to grow. Estrogen is the hormone that causes your uterine lining to thicken each month. When estrogen levels drop, the lining is expelled from the uterus, resulting in menstrual flow (you get your period). But unlike the tissue lining the uterus, which leaves your body during menstruation, endometriosis tissue is essentially trapped.

With no place to go, the tissue bleeds internally. Your body reacts to the internal bleeding with inflammation, a process that can lead to the formation of scar tissue (adhesions). This inflammation and the resulting scar tissue may cause pain and other symptoms.

This content originally appeared on HealthyWomen.org.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.