Endometriosis is a common condition where tissue similar to the lining of your womb (endometrium) starts to grow elsewhere and attaches to other organs, such as your ovaries and fallopian tubes.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic (long-term) condition.

The most common symptom is period pain and pelvic cramps, which can be severe enough to disrupt everyday activities. Left untreated, endometriosis can often lead to fertility problems as the build-up of endometrium tissue can cause ovarian cysts, which interfere with egg production. It can also block your fallopian tubes.

Endometriosis often starts in teenage years and affects one in 10 women of child-bearing age. However, the earlier it’s diagnosed and treated the less likelihood you'll have chronic pain or damage to your fallopian tubes and long-term infertility.

Endometriosis symptoms are usually mild to moderate and can be managed with medication. However, you may need surgical treatments. It usually stops altogether by the time you reach menopause.

How to tell if you have endometriosis

Signs of endometriosis are usually worse around the time of your period, and include:

In more severe endometriosis you might also have:

  • Ovary pain during ovulation
  • Chronic (long-term) pelvic pain
  • Rectal bleeding

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for endometriosis

To diagnose endometriosis your GP will ask about your symptoms. They may also carry out:

If symptoms are severe, you may be referred to a gynaecologist (a consultant specialising in the female reproductive system).

Endometriosis is often diagnosed by a procedure called a laparoscopy, which uses a small telescope to look inside your pelvic area.

An MRI scan is sometimes used to diagnose ovarian cysts and more severe endometriosis.

Causes of endometriosis

The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. However, genetics, the immune system, hormones and environmental factors are thought to play a role.

You’re at a higher risk of endometriosis if:

  • Your mother, sister or aunt has endometriosis
  • You’ve never given birth
  • You started your periods early or you’re late going through the menopause

Common treatments for endometriosis

Your treatment will depend on how severe your endometriosis is. Most endometriosis is mild or moderate and can be helped with:

  • Pain management
  • Hormone therapies, such as the contraceptive pill or Mirena IUD (intrauterine device) – they regulate the hormones that may be a factor in the build-up of endometrial tissue

You may need a standard surgical procedure to remove areas of endometrium. The most common technique is laparoscopy with laser and diathermy.

Other surgical procedures might be offered such as:

  • Laparoscopy to remove ovarian cysts
  • Tubal surgery – to repair damaged fallopian tubes
  • Hysterectomy (less often)