Endometriosis is non-malignant and occurs when endometrial cells, normally found only on the inside of the uterus (endometrium), become embedded in locations outside the uterus.Endometriosis occurs in 10 to 15 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 44.
Over 5.5 million women in the United States and Canada are affected by endometriosis.
An estimated 25 to 50 percent of women suffering from infertility also have endometriosis.
The Female Reproductive System and Endometriosis. Typically, endometriosis occurs in the organs of the female reproductive system, on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus. Other typical sites for endometriosis within the female reproductive system include the vagina, cervix, vulva and ligaments that support the uterus and urinary tract.
Information on endometriosis issued by the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics confirms that endometriosis may also occur outside the pelvis, ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can also be found in the intestines and rectum, appendix, diaphragm, lungs, thigh, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, surgical scars, and musculoskeletal and neural systems.
Who is at Risk for Endometriosis? Heredity is a known risk factor. A woman who has a mother or sister with endometriosis is six times more likely to develop endometriosis, compared with the general population. Other risk factors for endometriosis include:
early onset of periods
hormonal imbalance (higher estrogen levels increase the risk)
long, heavy periods
existing problems of the immune system or the female reproductive system, particularly the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus
exposure to environmental estrogenic toxins
Caucasian and Asian ethnicity.
Early Information on Endometriosis. Although endometriosis was first identified in the seventeenth century, it wasn’t until the late 1920s that the contemporary theory of its cause was born. According to R.F. Valle (International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics), endometriosis remains “frustrating for both physician and patient. . . Despite 70 years of theories and experimentation, the cause is not clear, and it is likely that more than one mechanism is at work in most patients”.
Causes of Endometriosis
Endometriosis is thought to occur when fragments of endometrial cells, traveling backwards through the fallopian tubes (retrograde menstruation), become implanted ectopically (in abnormal locations) throughout the female reproductive system, or more rarely, elsewhere in the body. Recent information on endometriosis suggests that the endometrial cells are sometimes carried from the uterus via the lymph or blood systems to distant locations in the body.
In other cases, tissue outside the uterus spontaneously morphs into endometrial cells in a process known as metaplasia. While these explanations demonstrate how endometriosis may be occurring in the body, no definitive cause or trigger has been identified.
Related Conditions. The following conditions occur more commonly among women with endometriosis than the general public:
-gastrointestinal disorders, such as diarrhea, constipation and nausea
-retroverted uterus (less common)
-asthma and allergies including
-sensitivity to certain chemicals
-chronic yeast infections
-chronic fatigue syndrome.