What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic, non-malignant ailment that affects around 10-15% of women of reproductive age. For many women it is a major cause of ill health and mental stress.

Endometriosis is one of the most common but also most under-diagnosed illnesses in women of childbearing age. In many cases, it is only years after the appearance of initial symptoms that it is diagnosed and individually tailored treatment can begin.

In endometriosis, the tissue that lines the mucosal membrane of the uterine cavity, and is normally shed by monthly menstrual bleeding, also grows as lesions outside the uterus. Endometrial growths occur most commonly in the ovaries, in the form of cysts (known as chocolate cysts), and on the peritoneum in the pelvic cavity. Endometriosis generally occurs in the lower abdomen, or in particularly aggressive cases in the connective tissue of the pelvis, the bladder or the rectum, but can also be found in other areas of the body (e.g. diaphragm or lungs).

As these cells respond to the monthly cycle in the same way as the lining of the uterus, various clinical symptoms can arise. The most typical indicators of endometriosis are cramp-like abdominal pains, directly before and during menstruation, or sometimes also independent of the monthly cycle. In severe cases pain also occurs during sexual intercourse, when urinating, and during bowel movements.

Endometriosis is one of the most common reasons for infertility. Ovarian cysts, adhesions or blockages in the fallopian tubes, for example, can lead to difficulties in conceiving a child. Independent of the mechanical causes, endometriosis changes the abdominal environment to such an extent that it can be difficult to establish a pregnancy. So here too the principle applies: the earlier a correct diagnosis can be made (by laparoscopy) the better the prognosis!

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