Is it an autoimmune disease?
Endometriosis is a chronic condition. It occurs when the cells that grow and shed from your uterus each month during your menstrual cycle begin to grow in other areas of your body. The tissue can become inflamed and bleed, irritating the organs and the cells around them.
Endometriosis can cause a number of symptoms, including bleeding between periods, back pain, and pelvic pain. The condition may affect more than 11 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44. It is most common among women in their 30s and 40s.
What are the causes of endometriosis?
The causes of endometriosis vary and are poorly understood. Doctors still don’t know everything about what triggers this condition. Causes may be the combination of multiple factors including genetics and immune dysfunction.
Endometriosis has not yet been classified as an autoimmune disease but it may increase risk for autoimmune diseases. The inflammatory nature of endometriosis seems to trigger imbalance in the immune system.
Our immune system protects our body from invaders. But immune systems can get out of balance. If you have an autoimmune disease, your body attacks itself, as if it were a foreign invader. Inflammation is part of this autoimmune response.
Having endometriosis can increase your risk for other health conditions. Some of these conditions, called comorbidities, are autoimmune diseases. Keep reading to find out what you should know about the health risks connected to endometriosis.
Endometriosis and autoimmune conditions
Researchers are looking to understand the root cause of endometriosis. It’s thought that women who have endometriosis may have abnormal immune system responses. This could stem from endometriosis. Or endometriosis may be a result of this factor. There are likely many things related to triggering this condition.
Hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis are all autoimmune conditions. These conditions have been linked to higher occurrence rates in women with endometriosis. Inflammation plays a role in the pain and other symptoms associated with these conditions, as it does with endometriosis.
There are more autoimmune conditions that have been linked to endometriosis in different ways. But the statistical connections are less clear. For example, multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus are sometimes identified as autoimmune conditions that women with endometriosis are at risk for. At least one study admits that we don’t yet conclusively know if a connection exists.
Are there other comorbidities?
There are other comorbidities that come with endometriosis. We’re still learning more about how they link together. For instance, upper respiratory infections and vaginal infections may occur more often when you have endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a common condition. So it’s unclear whether all of the conditions listed really are connected or if there is simply an overlap in who is being diagnosed with them. Having two health conditions doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re connected. More research is needed to truly determine the role that endometriosis plays in the development of other health conditions.
Endometriosis and mental health
Some of the most documented comorbidities for endometriosis are connected to mental health. Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with women that have endometriosis. These conditions tend to occur in the months and years after an endometriosis diagnosis.
Living with chronic pain and other uncomfortable symptoms can impact the way you feel about your body. Your level of pain, how you feel about your condition, and hormonal treatment methods can all factor in to this connection.
Endometriosis and cancer
Endometriosis can increase your risk for certain types of cancer. If you’re concerned about your risk, talk to your doctor. They can assess your other risk factors, such as your family history, and work with you to develop a preventative screening plan.
The risk for the average woman developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime is relatively low, but it’s influenced by certain risk factors. Having endometriosis increases your chances of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Endometriosis lesions are benign, but they can become cancerous because of oxidative stress, estrogen levels, and other factors.
According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Researchers in one 2016 study found that women who have endometriosis aren’t necessarily at a higher risk than anyone else.
However, you should still be mindful of breast cancer risks. It’s important to be cautious about breast cancer and take the necessary precautions to make sure that if you do develop it, you catch it early.
Current research suggests that women who have endometriosis appear to have a decreased risk of cervical cancer. Other risk factors, such as ethnicity and whether you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, are far more influential in predicting whether you’ll develop cervical cancer.
Out of 12 studies that tried to link endometriosis with skin cancer, 7 found a clear connection. The other five couldn’t demonstrate a clear link. It’s possible that exposure to environmental toxins, which can trigger both endometriosis and skin cancer, may be the reason these two conditions seem connected.
Brain cancer, kidney cancer, endocrine cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have all been studied for a connection to endometriosis, and the results are mixed. Some studies see a strong link between these cancers and endometriosis. But others claim the evidence is weak or coincidental. More research is needed to understand if there is a strong link between endometriosis and other kinds of cancer.
Endometriosis and asthma and allergic reactions
Women who have endometriosis may be more susceptible to allergic reactions and asthma. Researchers think this could be because of their immune responses to certain irritants. Women with allergies to penicillin, certain prescription medications, and allergic rhinitis have all been found to be at greater risk of having endometriosis.
Endometriosis and cardiovascular conditions
Coronary artery disease and endometriosis may share a genetic background. Oxidative stress is related to both endometriosis and cardiovascular disease. This could mean that endometriosis and cardiovascular conditions are linked. Surgeries used for the treatment of endometriosis, like hysterectomies, are also sometimes linked to heart disease.
The bottom line
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects your long-term health. If you have endometriosis, understanding the comorbidities is an important part of living with your condition.
Researchers are continuing to uncover the causes of endometriosis and how those causes might connect with other conditions. If you’re concerned about your risk, talk to your doctor. They can assess your individual risk factors and help you develop a plan for screening and prevention.