In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a medication to treat pain associated with endometriosis. The medication is called a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist. ACOG experts have been discussing how and for whom this treatment might be appropriate in women with endometriosis. This page may be updated after ACOG has completed its evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions Expand All
Endometriosis occurs in about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It is most often diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s.
Endometriosis tissue responds to changes in a hormone called estrogen. The tissue may grow and bleed like the uterine lining does during the menstrual cycle. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, inflamed, and swollen. The breakdown and bleeding of this tissue each month also can cause scar tissue to form. This scar tissue is called adhesions. Sometimes adhesions can cause organs to stick together. The bleeding, inflammation, and scarring can cause pain, especially before and during menstruation.
The most common symptom of endometriosis is chronic (long-term) pelvic pain, especially just before and during the menstrual period. Pain also may occur during sexual intercourse. If endometriosis affects the bowel, there can be pain during bowel movements. If it affects the bladder, there can be pain during urination. Heavy menstrual bleeding is another symptom of endometriosis.
Many women with endometriosis have no symptoms. Women without symptoms often learn they have endometriosis when they cannot get pregnant or when they are having surgery for something else.
An obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) first may do a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. But the only way to tell for sure that you have endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. Sometimes a small amount of tissue is removed during the procedure and tested in a lab. This is called a biopsy.
Treatment for endometriosis depends on the extent of the disease, your symptoms, and whether you want to have children. Endometriosis may be treated with medication, surgery, or both. When pain is the primary problem, medication usually is tried first.
Medications that are used to treat endometriosis include pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal medications, including birth control pills, progestin-only medications, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. Hormonal medications help slow the growth of the endometrial tissue and may keep new adhesions from forming. These drugs typically do not get rid of endometriosis tissue that is already there.
Surgery helps remove endometriosis tissue. Removing this tissue may relieve pain and improve fertility.
After surgery, most women have relief from pain. But there is a chance the pain will come back. Up to 8 in 10 women have pain again within 2 years of surgery. This may be due to endometriosis that was not visible or could not be removed at the time of surgery. The more severe the disease, the more likely it is to return. Taking birth control pills or other medications after having surgery may help extend the pain-free period.
If pain is severe and does not go away after treatment, a hysterectomy may be a “last resort” option. Endometriosis is less likely to lead to future pain if your ovaries are removed at the time of hysterectomy. Either way, the goal of surgical treatment is to remove as much as possible of the endometriosis that is found outside the uterus.
Adhesions: Scars that can make tissue surfaces stick together.
Biopsy: A minor surgical procedure to remove a small piece of tissue. This tissue is examined under a microscope in a laboratory.
Bladder: A hollow, muscular organ in which urine is stored.
Egg: The female reproductive cell made in and released from the ovaries. Also called the ovum.
Endometriosis: A condition in which tissue that lines the uterus is found outside of the uterus, usually on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic structures.
Endometrium: The lining of the uterus.
Estrogen: A female hormone produced in the ovaries.
Fallopian Tubes: Tubes through which an egg travels from the ovary to the uterus.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Agonists: Medical therapy used to block the effects of certain hormones.
Hormone: A substance made in the body that controls the functions of cells or organs.
Hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the uterus.
Infertility: The inability to get pregnant after 1 year of having regular sexual intercourse without the use of birth control.
Inflammation: Pain, swelling, redness, and irritation of tissues in the body.
Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure in which a thin, lighted telescope called a laparoscope is inserted through a small incision (cut) in the abdomen. The laparoscope is used to view the pelvic organs. Other instruments can be used with it to perform surgery.
Menstrual Cycle: The monthly process of changes that occur to prepare a woman’s body for possible pregnancy. A menstrual cycle is defined as the first day of menstrual bleeding of one cycle to the first day of menstrual bleeding of the next cycle.
Menstrual Period: The monthly shedding of blood and tissue from the uterus.
Menstruation: The monthly shedding of blood and tissue from the uterus that happens when a woman is not pregnant.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Drugs that relieve pain by reducing inflammation. Many types are available over the counter, including ibuprofen and naproxen.
Obstetrician–Gynecologist (Ob-Gyn): A doctor with special training and education in women’s health.
Ovaries: Organs in women that contain the eggs necessary to get pregnant and make important hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Pelvic Exam: A physical examination of a woman’s pelvic organs.
Peritoneum: The membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and surrounds the internal organs.
Progestin: A synthetic form of progesterone that is similar to the hormone made naturally by the body.
Rectum: The last part of the digestive tract.
Sexual Intercourse: The act of the penis of the male entering the vagina of the female. Also called “having sex” or “making love.”
Sperm: A cell made in the male testicles that can fertilize a female egg.
Ureters: A pair of tubes, each leading from one of the kidneys to the bladder.
Uterus: A muscular organ located in the female pelvis. During pregnancy, this organ holds and nourishes the fetus. Also called the womb.
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Last updated: February 2021
Last reviewed: June 2020
Copyright 2021 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
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