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What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when tissues that usually grow inside uterus instead grow on the outside.  These tissues often grow on the surfaces of organs in the pelvis or abdomen, where they are not supposed to grow.

View a diagram that shows where endometriosis might grow.


Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological diseases, affecting more than 5.5 million women in North America.  An estimated 2 percent to 10 percent of women of reproductive age have endometriosis. 


What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

The two most common symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain before or after menstrual periods, as well as during or after sex 
  • Lower back, intestinal, or pelvic pain
  • Heavy menstrual periods, or spotting and bleeding between periods
  • Painful bowel movements or painful urination during menstrual periods
  • Infertility - About 30 percent to 40 percent of women with endometriosis are infertile, making it one of the top three causes for female infertility

In most cases, the symptoms of endometriosis become milder after menopause because the growths begin to get smaller.


What are the treatments for endometriosis?

There is currently no cure for endometriosis.  But a variety of treatment options exist, and there are ways to minimize the symptoms caused by the condition. 

There are several ways to treat pain, including:

  • Pain medication – may be used to relieve symptoms
  • Hormone therapy – may be used to control the growth of endometriosis
  • Surgery – may be used to remove growths or control the size of very large endometriosis and to relieve pain.

Hormone treatments and surgery may help women who are unable to become pregnant.  There are also other treatments for infertility associated with endometriosis. 


For more information about treatments, check out the Are there treatments for endometriosis? section of the NICHD publication Endometriosis.


This information has been provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (part of the National Institutes of Health)
Last Update: 02/16/2007

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