Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that normally forms inside the uterus grows in other places throughout the body, most commonly in the pelvic area. Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people with endometriosis have tremendous pain and reduced quality of life, while others have no symptoms at all.
Endometriosis affects more than 11 percent of menstruating women in the United States between the ages of 15 to 44. While it can happen to any female who has begun having periods, there are risk factors that increase your chances of developing this condition.
1. Family history
If someone in your family has endometriosis, your risk for developing it is 7 to 10 times higher than those with no family history of the condition.
Endometriosis in immediate family members, such as your mother, grandmother, or sister, puts you at the highest risk for developing the condition. If you have distant relatives such as cousins who have it, this also increases your chances of being diagnosed.
Endometriosis can be passed down both maternally and paternally.
2. Menstrual cycle characteristics
The more exposure you have to menstruation, the higher the chance you have of developing endometriosis. Factors that increase your menstrual exposure and thus your risk include:
- having 27 days or fewer between each period
- starting your first period before the age of 12 years
- experiencing periods that last seven days or longer each month
Pregnancy, which reduces the number of times you have periods, decreases risk. If you do have endometriosis and are able to become pregnant, your symptoms may fade during your pregnancy. It’s common for symptoms to return after your baby is born.
3. Conditions that interfere with normal menstrual flow
One of the theories of causes associated with endometriosis is retrograde menstrual flow, or flow that moves backward. If you have a medical condition that increases, blocks, or redirects your menstrual flow, this could be a risk factor. Conditions that can result in retrograde menstrual flow include:
- increased estrogen production
- uterine growths, like fibroids or polyps
- structural abnormality of your uterus, cervix, or vagina
- obstructions in your cervix or vagina
- asynchronous uterine contractions
4. Immune system disorders
Immune system disorders contribute to endometriosis risk. If your immune system is weak, it’s less likely to recognize misplaced endometrial tissue. The scattered endometrial tissue is left to implant in the wrong places. This can lead to problems like lesions, inflammation, and scarring.
5. Abdominal surgery
Sometimes abdominal surgery like a caesarean delivery (commonly known as a C-section) or hysterectomy can misplace endometrial tissue. If this misplaced tissue isn’t destroyed by your immune system, it can lead to endometriosis. Review your surgical history with your doctor when discussing your endometriosis symptoms.
Endometriosis involves uterine lining cells, so any woman or girl old enough to menstruate can develop the condition. In spite of this, endometriosis is most commonly diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s.
Experts theorize this is the age at which women try to conceive, and for some, infertility is the main symptom of endometriosis. Women who don’t have severe pain associated with menstruation might not seek assessment by their doctor until they’re trying to get pregnant.
Reducing the risk
Until we better understand what leads to endometriosis, it’s difficult to say how to prevent it.
You can probably reduce your risk by lowering the amount of estrogen in your system. One of the functions of estrogen is to thicken your uterus lining, or endometrium. If your estrogen level is high, your endometrium will be thicker, which can cause heavy bleeding. If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, you’re at risk for developing endometriosis.
Being in a healthy state balances hormones. To keep hormones such as estrogen at normal or lower levels, try these strategies:
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat whole foods and less processed foods.
- Consume less alcohol.
- Reduce your caffeine intake.
- Talk to your doctor about your birth control medication to see if there is a type you can switch to that contains less estrogen.
Knowing the risk factors for endometriosis can help you to manage your health. Not only does this information supply you with effective risk reduction strategies, but it can also help your doctor arrive at a more accurate diagnosis. Since endometriosis is easily misdiagnosed, identifying your risk factors for this condition can narrow down your search for the cause of your symptoms.
With a diagnosis comes solutions, so discuss your risk factors for endometriosis with your doctor.