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Why does endometriosis cause pain and health problems?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Growths of endometriosis are benign (not cancerous), but they still can cause many problems:

  • Uterine or ovarian cancer: Even though a diagnosis of endometriosis does not automatically mean that you are going to get cancer, sometimes the displaced endometrial cells become cancerous.
  • Infertility: Researchers have found that in cases of infertility among young women, 25 to 50 percent are due to endometriosis. When your displaced endometrial tissue swells and bleeds, it can cause scar tissue and cysts to develop. This extra matter can sometimes block some of the reproductive organs and processes. It is possible to become pregnant while you have endometriosis, but it can be a very long process. Once you become pregnant, your endometriosis symptoms will likely stop temporarily.
  • Abdominal pain: Endometriosis often causes abdominal pain because it involves endometrial tissue spread throughout the abdominal area. When you begin to menstruate, your displaced endometrial tissue begins to swell and bleed excessively. This aggravates all part of your abdominal area, resulting in intense cramps and heavy bleeding.

To see why these problems occur, it helps to understand a woman's menstrual cycle. Every month, hormones cause the lining of a woman's uterus to build up with tissue and blood vessels. If a woman does not get pregnant, the uterus sheds this tissue and blood. It comes out of the body through the vagina as her menstrual period.

Patches of endometriosis also respond to the hormones produced during the menstrual cycle. With the passage of time, the growths of endometriosis may expand by adding extra tissue and blood and the symptoms of endometriosis often get worse.

This answer is based on source information from The National Women's Health Information Center.

While the connection between endometriosis and infertility is not clearly understood, advanced-stage endometriosis makes it very difficult for the egg and sperm to reach each other.

Endometriosis is a disease in which endometrial tissue is found outside of the uterus, typically on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and bowel. It occurs in reproductive age women.

Treatment of early-stage endometriosis doesn't seem to make a difference in pregnancy rates, but knowing you have it may influence your choice of reproductive technology. Be sure to report these symptoms to your healthcare professional: painful menstrual cramps that get worse over time, extremely heavy menstrual flow, diarrhea or painful bowel movements (especially around the time of your period) and painful sexual intercourse.

Continue Learning about Endometriosis

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Can Endometriosis Affect Pregnancy?
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If I Go on Birth Control to Treat Endometriosis, Will That Affect My Ability to Get Pregnant Later?
If I Go on Birth Control to Treat Endometriosis, Will That Affect My Ability to Get Pregnant Later?
How Can I Manage the Pain from Endometriosis?
How Can I Manage the Pain from Endometriosis?

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.