Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside it. The main symptoms are pelvic pain and infertility. Nearly half of those affected have chronic pelvic pain, while in 70% pain occurs during menstruation. Pain during sex is also common. Infertility occurs in up to half of women affected. Less common symptoms include urinary or bowel symptoms. About 25% of women have no symptoms. Endometriosis can have both social and psychological effects.
The cause is not entirely clear. Risk factors include having a family history of the condition. Most often the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue around the uterus and ovaries are affected; however, in rare cases it may also occur in other parts of the body. The areas of endometriosis bleed each month, resulting in inflammation and scarring. The growths due to endometriosis are not cancer. Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms in combination with medical imaging. Biopsy is the most sure method of diagnosis. Other causes of similar symptoms include pelvic inflammatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, and fibromyalgia.
Although 20–25% of women with endometriosis have no symptoms, pain and infertility are common signs.A major symptom of endometriosis is recurring pelvic pain. The pain can range from mild to severe cramping or stabbing pain that occurs on both sides of the pelvis, in the lower back and rectal area, and even down the legs. The amount of pain a woman feels correlates poorly with the extent or stage (1 through 4) of endometriosis, with some women having little or no pain despite having extensive endometriosis or endometriosis with scarring, while other women may have severe pain even though they have only a few small areas of endometriosis. Symptoms of endometriosis-related pain may include:
- dysmenorrhea – painful, sometimes disabling cramps during the menstrual period; pain may get worse over time (progressive pain), also lower back pains linked to the pelvis
- chronic pelvic pain – typically accompanied by lower back pain or abdominal pain
- dyspareunia – painful sex
- dysuria – urinary urgency, frequency, and sometimes painful voiding
Throbbing, gnawing, and dragging pain to the legs are reported more commonly by women with endometriosis.[unreliable medical source? Compared with women with superficial endometriosis, those with deep disease appear to be more likely to report shooting rectal pain and a sense of their insides being pulled down. Individual pain areas and pain intensity appears to be unrelated to the surgical diagnosis, and the area of pain unrelated to area of endometriosis.
Endometriosis lesions react to hormonal stimulation and may “bleed” at the time of menstruation. The blood accumulates locally, causes swelling, and triggers inflammatory responses with the activation of cytokines. This process may cause pain. Pain can also occur from adhesions (internal scar tissue) binding internal organs to each other, causing organ dislocation. Fallopian tubes, ovaries, the uterus, the bowels, and the bladder can be bound together in ways that are painful on a daily basis, not just during menstrual periods.
Also, endometriotic lesions can develop their own nerve supply, thereby creating a direct and two-way interaction between lesions and the central nervous system, potentially producing a variety of individual differences in pain that can, in some women, become independent of the disease itself. Nerve fibres and blood vessels are thought to grow into endometriosis lesions by a process known as Neuroangiogenesis.
Many women with infertility may have endometriosis. Among women with endometriosis, up to half may experience infertility
Other symptoms include diarrhea or constipation,[unreliable medical source? chronic fatigue,[medical citation needed] nausea and vomiting, headaches, low-grade fevers, heavy and/or irregular periods, and hypoglycemia
In addition to pain during menstruation, the pain of endometriosis can occur at other times of the month. There can be pain with ovulation, pain associated with adhesions, pain caused by inflammation in the pelvic cavity, pain during bowel movements and urination, during general bodily movement like exercise, pain from standing or walking, and pain with intercourse. The most severe pain is typically associated with menstruation. Pain can also start a week before a menstrual period, during and even a week after a menstrual period, or it can be constant.
There is an association between endometriosis and certain types of cancers, notably some types of ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and brain cancer. Endometriosis is unrelated to endometrial cancer.
A health history and a physical examination can lead the health care practitioner to suspect endometriosis. Although doctors can often feel the endometrial growths during a pelvic exam, and these symptoms may be signs of endometriosis, diagnosis cannot be confirmed by exam only. Use of pelvic ultrasound may identify large endometriotic cysts (called endometriomas). However, smaller endometriosis implants cannot be visualized with ultrasound technique.
Laparoscopic image of endometriotic lesions in the Pouch of Douglas and on the right sacrouterine ligament.Laparoscopy, a surgical procedure where a camera is used to look inside the abdominal cavity, is the only way to officially diagnose endometriosis as it permits lesion visualization, unless the lesion is visible externally, e.g. an endometriotic nodule in the vagina. If the growths are not visible, a biopsy may be taken to determine the diagnosis. Surgery for diagnoses also allows for surgical treatment of endometriosis at the same time.
To the eye, lesions can appear dark blue, powder-burn black, red, white, yellow, brown or non-pigmented. Lesions vary in size. Some within the pelvis walls may not be visible, as normal-appearing peritoneum of infertile women reveals endometriosis on biopsy in 6–13% of cases. Early endometriosis typically occurs on the surfaces of organs in the pelvic and intra-abdominal areas. Health care providers may call areas of endometriosis by different names, such as implants, lesions, or nodules. Larger lesions may be seen within the ovaries as endometriomas or “chocolate cysts”, “chocolate” because they contain a thick brownish fluid, mostly old blood.
Frequently during diagnostic laparoscopy, no lesions are found in women with chronic pelvic pain, a symptom common to other disorders including adenomyosis, pelvic adhesions, pelvic inflammatory disease, congenital anomalies of the reproductive tract, and ovarian or tubal masses.
Surgically, endometriosis can be staged I–IV by the revised classification of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine from 1997. The process is a complex point system that assesses lesions and adhesions in the pelvic organs, but it is important to note staging assesses physical disease only, not the level of pain or infertility. A person with Stage I endometriosis may have little disease and severe pain, while a person with Stage IV endometriosis may have severe disease and no pain or vice versa. In principle the various stages show these findings
Stage I (Minimal)
Findings restricted to only superficial lesions and possibly a few filmy adhesions
Stage II (Mild)
In addition, some deep lesions are present in the cul-de-sac
Stage III (Moderate)
As above, plus presence of endometriomas on the ovary and more adhesions.
Stage IV (Severe)
As above, plus large endometriomas, extensive adhesions