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What Is Endometriosis?
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What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a unique disorder that occurs only in women, and after they have reached puberty and started to menstruate. In this condition, the specialized endometrial tissue, which is normally only found inside the uterus, grows outside the uterus in other parts of the woman's body. Endometriosis is considered unique because there are no other medical conditions quite like it in the human body.

The most common age when endometriosis may occur is when women are in their 30s and 40s, with between 5 and 15 percent of women of reproductive age being affected. The disorder is only ever found in women who have started to menstruate and is no longer a problem for women who have reached menopause, even if they had symptoms when they were younger.

There appears to be a hereditary link for endometriosis and it does seem to run in families, although science has offered no explanation as to why only some women will develop the disease. It has been shown, however, that Caucasian women are more likely to have it than others.

Endometrial tissue is unique to the uterus and under normal conditions, is not found anywhere else in the body but the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. It serves a special purpose in nourishing a newly fertilized egg after it has implanted into the wall of the uterus at the start of a pregnancy. For this reason, the endometrium thickens, swells and fills with blood during each monthly menstrual cycle, ready to receive the fertilized egg. If no fertilization occurs, the excess blood is sloughed away during what is termed menstruation.

It is when endometrial-type tissue is found outside the uterus that it is called endometriosis. Many women have the condition but never experience any noticeable symptoms and are unaware they have it. However, some women experience pain, bleeding and difficulty in conceiving a baby.

The reason for this is that all endometrial tissue responds to hormones that the ovaries release, at the same time they release an egg each month, whether the tissue is inside the uterus or not. These hormones cause the tissue to swell and thicken, which can cause pain and bleeding when it is located outside the uterus.

With the repeated swelling and thickening happening every month, the endometriosis can cause scarring to occur. Adhesions are another complication associated with endometriosis; these are tissues that form a web to hold the organs of the pelvis in place. Both the scarring and adhesions contribute to the discomfort experienced by patients.

Endometrial tissue attached to an ovary can develop into a cyst which is called an endometrioma. These can cause pain and discomfort because they can increase to the size of an egg or bigger and are at risk of rupturing, causing intense abdominal pain.

The areas where endometriosis can occur include on other organs within the abdominal cavity, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes and bladder. Other sites where endometrial tissue might adhere are the outside of the uterus, the rectum, the intestines, vagina, surgical scar sites and, less commonly, the lung or the chest cavity. When the lower intestine or bowel is affected, pain and bleeding in the area can be experienced during the woman's menstrual cycle.

If you experience any unusual symptoms with your menstrual cycle or abdominal pain, you need to consult your health care professional as soon as possible to have these symptoms investigated.

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