How Endometriosis Affects Fertility and What You Can do About It

Endometriosis is a chronic gynecological disorder that occurs when the endometrium, which is the tissue that lines the uterus, grows outside of the womb itself. Because this misplaced tissue continues to respond to the monthly fluctuations of your menstrual cycle, it still thickens, breaks down, and bleeds with every menstrual cycle — but has no way to exit your body.

For the estimated 200 million women worldwide who live with endometriosis — including one in 10 women of reproductive age in the United States — chronic pelvic pain and other intense symptoms can have a major impact on everything from work life and personal relationships to emotional health and overall well-being.

As if having an uncomfortable condition that routinely interferes with daily life isn’t stressful enough, endometriosis can also decrease fertility, making it more difficult to become pregnant.

But it’s not all bad news — in honor of National Endometriosis Awareness Month this March, our team at Lake Havasu OB/GYN Care would like to share some critical information about the condition. Let’s explore how this common disorder can impact your body as well as your fertility, and how finding the right treatment can help protect both.

Endometriosis basics

Each month during your menstrual cycle, the tissue that lines the inside of your uterus grows and thickens to prepare for the implantation of a fertilized egg. If no egg is fertilized, your uterus sheds its lining — meaning you get your period — to prepare for the start of a new menstrual cycle.

For girls and women with endometriosis, small portions of the tissue erroneously grow in spots outside of the uterus and attach themselves to nearby pelvic organs.

When fixed to your ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines, or the outer surface of your uterus, this endometrial tissue still acts as it would inside your womb: It grows, thickens, and tries to shed in response to the hormonal changes of your menstrual cycle.

With no way to leave your body, however, these misplaced tissues develop into lesions that can irritate nearby organs and tissues and lead to the formation of scar tissue, ovarian cysts, and adhesions.

Endometriosis is a frequent cause of severe menstrual cramps and chronic pelvic pain. The disease is also associated with heavy menstrual bleeding, nausea, chronic fatigue, bowel and urinary disorders, and pain during intercourse.

Endometriosis complications

Although endometriosis can develop as soon as menstruation begins, the disease is most common among women who are in their prime reproductive years between the ages of 25 and 35. This can be especially worrisome, given the following:

  1. Endometriosis is one of the top three causes of female infertility
  2. It takes an average of 10 years for most women to be properly diagnosed
  3. Left untreated, endometriosis tends to worsen over time

Although many women with mild-to-moderate endometriosis don’t have trouble conceiving naturally, up to half of all women with moderate-to-severe endometriosis find it increasingly difficult to become pregnant.

So how does endometriosis undermine fertility? In many cases, the adhesions and scar tissue caused by endometriosis can physically prevent an egg and sperm from uniting, either by interfering with normal ovulation or making it impossible for the egg to travel through the fallopian tube for fertilization.

But that’s not the only way that endometriosis can impact your ability to become pregnant. For some women, the disease also stops the endometrium from developing as it should, making it difficult or impossible for a fertilized egg to implant itself and develop into an embryo. For others, chronic low-grade inflammation causes irreversible damage to eggs as well as sperm.

Because endometriosis tends to progress with age, women who want children and don’t yet have any fertility issues are generally advised to start their families as soon as possible.

Endometriosis solutions

Women with mild-to-moderate endometriosis usually need little more than an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen or naproxen to alleviate symptoms and get on with their day. Getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and learning effective relaxation techniques can also go a long way in helping you take control of your symptoms.

If endometriosis is interfering with your ability to become pregnant, you may be able to improve your chances by taking a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist for a time.

By prompting your body to cut its production of the hormones that facilitate ovulation and menstruation, this medicine helps control the growth of endometriosis and stall its progression. Once you complete your prescribed course of treatment, your menstrual cycle and normal ovulation will resume, and you may find it easier to get pregnant.

If you’re living with a more severe case of endometriosis, improved fertility may only be attainable through surgery. Luckily, minimally invasive laparoscopic methods make it possible to remove problematic endometrial tissue with as much precision as traditional open surgery, but with far less risk and downtime.

Although endometriosis can’t be cured completely, it can be managed effectively. To learn more about your treatment options, call our office in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, today or use the easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hooker any time.

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