Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition in and around the uterus and pelvis area. Women who have this chronic condition can have serious side effects without treatment.

If you have this condition, your doctor may recommend several procedures to make a diagnosis. An ultrasound scan is an important tool for endometriosis, but it cannot make a definite diagnosis alone.

You may also need regular ultrasound scans as part of your diagnostic and treatment plan.

We’ll explore how ultrasound may play a role if you have endometriosis or your doctor suspects you may have it.

Endometriosis is a common reproductive condition in women. This inflammatory disorder happens when tissue that resembles the uterus lining (endometrium) grows outside of the uterus.

In endometriosis, this tissue may grow on the ovaries, pelvis, or bowel areas. Some women may have severe discomfort, while others may not have any symptoms. The exact cause of this condition isn’t known.

Endometrial-like tissue in the uterus thickens during the menstrual cycle and then leaves the body during menstruation. If you have endometriosis, the tissue that has grown outside the uterus also thickens, but remains in the body. This leads to irritation, pain, scar tissue, and adhesions (sticking to other parts of the body) that gets worse around the time of your period.

If you’re among the up to 10 to 15 percent of women of reproductive age who has endometriosis, you may have symptoms such as:

If you have endometriosis, you may have a higher risk of developing some types of autoimmune diseases and cancers.

Chronic pain and discomfort from this condition can also impact your life in many other ways, including raising your risk of depression and other mental health issues.

Therefore, it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms that may point to endometriosis.

An ultrasound imaging scan is a simple and fast way for your doctor to see inside your pelvis to assess your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes if they are enlarged. It uses high frequency sound waves to form an image of the inside of your body.

An ultrasound scan is easy, accessible, and noninvasive or minimally invasive. Some ultrasound scans may use a vaginal probe to get a clearer image of the inside of the uterus.

An ultrasound is typically the first imaging tool used by your doctor to get a closer look if you have any symptoms of endometriosis. But you’ll need other tests and scans besides an ultrasound to be diagnosed with endometriosis.

In some situations, ultrasounds may be limited with how much they can show in regard to endometriosis. Your doctor may perform an ultrasound along with other tests.

The current gold standard for diagnosing endometriosis — and the seriousness of your case — is to complete a surgical diagnostic procedure called a laparoscopy. However, this procedure isn’t always necessary to make a presumed diagnosis.

Other imaging tests are currently being researched to see if they can identify endometriosis without the need for surgery.

What your doctor will look for on an ultrasound scan

Your doctor will look for endometrioma — a type of ovarian cyst — on an ultrasound scan for diagnosing endometriosis.

If you have endometrioma on the scan, your doctor may use that for diagnosis or order other scans and tests to confirm it.

After you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, you may have regular ultrasound scans to check whether you have more cysts or other signs of this condition.

Along with an ultrasound, the first steps to getting a diagnosis for endometriosis include telling your doctor about your symptoms and medical history, as well as having a physical exam.

Diagnosis of this disease can be difficult, as the symptoms are similar to other common conditions such as ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Your endometriosis stage will depend on what your doctor finds in your physical exams, scans, and other tests. The location, extent (spread), and depth of the implants along with the severity of scar tissue found will help your doctor determine the stage of your endometriosis.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine classifies endometriosis into four stages:

  • Stage I (minimal): superficial implants and mild adhesions
  • Stage II (mild): superficial implants, mild adhesions, and possibly endometrioma
  • Stage III (moderate): many tissue implants and small cysts are found
  • Stage IV (severe): many deep implants, along with large cysts

Your endometriosis stage doesn’t indicate how much pain and discomfort you may have. A person diagnosed with stage I endometriosis can have severe discomfort and other symptoms, while someone with stage IV endometriosis may have no symptoms.

Ultrasound scans including transabdominal, transvaginal, and transrectal imaging are the most common imaging tests for endometriosis along with MRI.

An MRI uses radio waves in combination with a strong magnetic field to generate clear images inside the body. It can show your doctor where you have endometriosis.

If you need surgery to remove endometriosis tissue, an MRI scan can show your doctor the exact location and size of the implant to remove.

Without treatment, endometriosis can lead to serious complications including infertility, pelvic pain, and cancer. While there is currently no cure for endometriosis, your symptoms can be treated and managed, allowing for a better quality of life.

Treatment for endometriosis varies from person to person. Your treatment plan will depend on the stage of your endometriosis and your symptoms. Many people with endometriosis prefer trying medication first before surgery.

Your treatment strategy may include:

  • Medication: Pain medication, such as over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and ibuprofen, may provide relief with cramping during menstruation.
  • Hormone therapy. Birth control pills and patches may help stabilize your hormones during your menstrual cycle by decreasing the thickening of the endometrial-like tissues and thereby reducing symptoms.
  • Surgery. Surgery to remove endometrial-like tissue implants can help reduce your symptoms and possible complications. It may also help with infertility issues if you’re trying to conceive. However, endometriosis tissue can still spread, and symptoms may return even after surgery.

Ultrasound imaging is an important tool for diagnosing endometriosis and keeping an eye on its stage and possible progression.

Don’t ignore symptoms that may point to endometriosis and let your doctor know if you think you may have it. Early diagnosis and treatment is important with this condition.

An ultrasound scan may be enough to diagnose endometriosis and can help your doctor pinpoint the source of your symptoms. You have several treatment options to help you manage and ease your symptoms.

You will need regular checkups with your doctor, as endometriosis can take time to fully diagnose and treatment can continue for years.