What is endometriosis?

The ‘endometrium’ is the tissue that lines the uterus. When endometriosis occurs, this type of tissue grows in locations outside the uterus. This can cause pelvic pain, painful periods and problems with fertility. Endometriosis affects 5-10% of women in their reproductive years. Endometriosis is a chronic condition. Doctors and scientists still don’t have a complete understanding of endometriosis or why it happens. Although you can have endometriosis and have none of these, the typical signs and symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Painful menstruation
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Painful defecation
  • Low back or abdominal pain
  • Chronic pelvic pain for at least 6 months
  • Infertility

Any or all of these symptoms may also be due to causes other than endometriosis.

Why do women get endometriosis?

No one knows exactly why endometriosis happens, but there are factors that increase the risk of having the condition, including:

  • Genetics – you are far more likely to have endometriosis if your mother or sister has it.
  • Anatomy – if your uterus and vagina are shaped such that your menstrual flow is blocked in any way.

Can I still get pregnant if I have endometriosis?

If you have endometriosis it can be more difficult to become pregnant. Scar tissue can block your fallopian tubes and prevent egg and sperm from meeting. The good news is that many women with endometriosis are able to conceive, but it usually takes longer. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is also an option, but success rates may be lower for women with endometriosis.

How can endometriosis be treated to enhance fertility?

In some cases you will be advised to have the extra endometrial tissue surgically removed. This is usually done laparoscopically (with fibre-optic instruments inserted through the abdominal wall). Studies have shown that treating endometriosis with hormones does not improve fertility rates. In other cases IVF may be your best option.