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What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition which affects around 1.5 million women in the UK*. The condition can affect all women and girls of childbearing age, no matter their ethnicity or race.

Endometriosis is a common and often painful condition in which tissue that normally line the inside of your womb (uterus), known as the endometrium, grows outside of your womb. The tissue can be found in your ovaries, fallopian tubes and on the tissue that lines your pelvis. Even though the endometrium tissue is outside of the womb it continues to act as it normally would, it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this tissue is not in the womb but around the sexual organs, it becomes trapped and cannot be released from the body, this can cause severe pain during your periods.

What is the main cause of endometriosis?

The exact cause of endometriosis is not currently known, however there are a few theories that try to explain why it happens:

  • Genetics – the condition commonly runs in families and can also affect people of certain ethnic groups more than others
  • Immune system – the body’s natural defence could be unable to recognise and destroy endometrial tissue that is growing outside of the womb
  • Retrograde menstruation – this is when menstrual blood and womb lining flows up the fallopian tubes instead of leaving the body in a period. These then embed themselves in the pelvic walls and grow.
  • Endometrium cells – these are transported throughout the body

It is likely that the condition which affects women is caused by a combination of factors.

What are the first signs of endometriosis?

Symptoms of endometriosis can vary, some woman are badly affected while many women do not have noticeable symptoms. One of the first signs of endometriosis is pelvic pain, this occurs during your period. Although many women experience menstrual cramps and pain during their period, the pain associated with endometriosis can stop you from completely daily tasks; it is much worse and can increase over time.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in your lower abdomen or back this can worsen during your period
  • Pain during your period which stops you doing your normal daily tasks
  • Pain after or during sex
  • Pain with your bowel movements or when you urinate during your period
  • Feeling sick, being constipated or experiencing diarrhoea during your period
  • Seeing blood in your urine during your period
  • Finding it difficult to get pregnant
  • Experiencing fatigue during your period
  • Bleeding between your periods

Is endometriosis curable?

There is currently no cure for endometriosis; however there are treatments that can help to ease your symptoms and make your periods more bearable. Treatments range from using painkillers, hormones medicines and surgery to remove patches of endometriosis tissue.

Can you get pregnant if you have endometriosis?

Endometriosis can make it difficult for you to get pregnant or you may not be able to get pregnant at. Endometriosis may obstruct your fallopian tubes making it harder for an egg to become fertilised by a sperm and also stopping the egg from attaching to the uterine wall. The condition can also affect your fertility in other ways by damaging the eggs or sperm themselves. Surgery to remove endometriosis tissue can help to improve your chances of getting pregnant, although there is no guarantee. You should talk to your GP about your treatment options; they’ll be able to advise you on what might be suitable for you.

What are the signs that I will be starting my period?

In the two weeks leading up to your period you might notice certain psychical, emotional and behavioural changes taking place. Find out more about the symptoms of your period here.

Why is my period late?

Your period can be late for many reasons, for example you could be pregnant. Lifestyle factors such as stress and your weight or the contraception that you are using can also affect your menstrual cycle. To find out more about why your period is late click here.

Why is my period so painful?

Period pain is caused by the muscles in your womb (uterus) contracting and tightening. Many women only experience mild discomfort during their period, however if you experience severe pain you should talk to your GP.