Are You At Risk for Endometriosis?

Are you at risk for endometriosis? Many women have endometriosis risk factors such as painful or heavy periods. Yet these women may not realize they have endometriosis until they try for months to conceive and cannot get pregnant.

What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a noncancerous or benign disorder that often leads to infertility. A common block to conception, endometriosis is a reality for more than five million women in the US today. In fact, it’s estimated that 30 percent of infertile women have endometriosis which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get pregnant.

Endometriosis explained
With endometriosis, the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus appears in other parts of the body such as the fallopian tubes and the abdomen. The misplaced endometrial tissue then develops into adhesions, which react to the woman’s menstrual cycle as follows:

  • During the menstrual cycle, the endometrial tissue builds and then sheds.
  • This shedding of tissue with menstruation is part of the monthly flow. 
  • When the endometrial tissue is outside of the uterus, it has no place to go. 
  • The tissue then backs up and causes problems such as internal bleeding, inflammation, moderate to severe cramping and pain, lesions, which make pregnancy difficult.

Endometriosis can be linked to the backflow of menstrual fluid and tissue through the tubes and out into the pelvic cavity (called retrograde menstruation). 

Endometriosis risk factors
Why are certain women at a higher risk for endometriosis than others? While doctors are unsure of the reasons, there are some risk factors that appear to increase the chances of endometriosis, including:

  • Genetic causes or a family history of endometriosis - while endometriosis is not directly inherited, it is more common in some families
  • Never having children
  • Painful periods
  • Heavy periods that last for a week or more
  • Defect of the uterus or vagina or a blockage that obstructs normal blood flow during menstruation
  • An autoimmune disease
  • An exposure to dioxins or a sensitivity to chemicals
  • Frequent vaginal or yeast infections
  • Mitral valve prolapse (a heart valve problem)
  • Come cancers such as breast, ovarian, endocrine, thyroid, brain, colon, kidney, melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

If you have any risk factors for endometriosis, it’s important to ask your doctor for more information on this common disorder. Ask your physician about treatment for pain and other related endometriosis symptoms. Not only does endometriosis make it difficult to conceive and have children, but the cramping, pain, and heavy bleeding can reduce quality of life.

Infertility specialists treat endometriosis
If you can't get pregnant, you may want to see a fertility specialist such as a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) to get an accurate medical diagnosis for your infertility. An RE can diagnose and treat endometriosis, and then guide you successfully through pregnancy and birth.

Along with understanding endometriosis risk factors, getting the right diagnosis and proper medical care for endometriosis can start you on the road to better health and successful conception.

Ask a doctor in your area about endometriosis

This content is Copyright The American Fertility Association (AFA) 2010. This content is intended for personal use and may not be distributed or reproduced without AFA consent. Please contact or visit for more information.

  • Endometriosis Research Center. Medscape: Diagnosis of Endometriosis: Imaging Techniques.
  • Endometriosis Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Endometriosis.