Endometriosis is a chronic condition that causes tissue similar to your uterine lining to grow outside the uterus. The pain can range from “ouch” to “MY UTERUS TRYING TO KILL ME!”
While we still don’t know the exact cause, research suggests genetics play a part (thanks-but-no-thanks, Mom).
So is endometriosis hereditary?
Some studies show your genes can increase your risk of developing endometriosis. The disorder tends to cluster in families, especially among first-degree relatives (e.g., mother, sister, or daughter).
But genetics aren’t the only endometriosis risk factor.
Endometriosis affects up to 15 percent of reproductive-age peeps with a uterus. It can vary from womb-to-womb, but common symptoms include:
- heavy period flow
- severe period cramps
- discomfort during sex
- spotting between period
- pain when you pee or poop
Let’s dive into what causes endometriosis and how the condition may be hereditary.
The exact cause of endometriosis is still up for debate. Here’s what might be going on down under.
In rare cases, endometrial-like cells can attach to scar tissue after surgery (like a C-section or hysterectomy). The cells can then spread to other areas.
Immune system issues
Certain immune conditions — like fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis —have been linked to higher rates of endometriosis.
TBH more research is needed to explain this connection. But it might be because endometriosis can cause inflammation which sparks an immune system response.
This is when menstrual blood and tissues flow upstream. This process can deposit endometrial-like tissue to other areas of your abdomen and pelvis.
Recent research found that up to 90 percent of peeps who get periods will experience retrograde menstruation. But the bulk of these folks won’t wind up with endometriosis.
It’s possible for endometrial-like cells to travel to other parts of your bod via the lymphatic system.
The most common sites are the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the abdominal or pelvic walls. But endometriosis can also affect the urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, soft tissues, and chest in atypical cases.
Who’s more at risk of endo?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you’re at a higher risk of endometriosis if you:
- are infertile
- got your period before the age of 11
- have heavy periods that last more than 7 days
- have short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- have a first-degree relative with endometriosis
NOTE: Endometriosis can affect anyone with a uterus (even after menopause). But it’s most common in folks who are in their 30s or 40s.
Yes. Genetics *can* play a part in endometriosis. But researchers are still trying to pinpoint which gene is to blame. A 2019 review listed more than 24 potential culprits.
A 2010 study examined 140 participants — 80 had endometriosis and 60 did not. About 5.9 percent of the folks with endometriosis had a first-degree relative who also had the disease. Meanwhile, only 3 percent of people who didn’t have endometriosis had a first-degree relative with the condition.
An older 1999 study also found an increased incidence of the endometriosis in first- (mother or sibling), second- (aunt), and third-degree relatives (cousins).
BTW, there’s also a chance environmental factors like pollution or stress can increase your risk if you’re genetically predisposed to the disease.
The deets on diagnosing endometriosis
It takes an average of 4 to 11 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis after the symptoms start, according to 2019 research. But back in the 1970s it was even worse — up to 70 percent of cases were left undiagnosed. Yikes.
That said, you might have a family member who has had endometriosis but was never diagnosed.
There’s no research that proves you can prevent endometriosis. But we do know the disease depends on the sex hormone estrogen. That said, lowering your levels might reduce your risk.
Some ways to lower estrogen include:
- exercise on the reg
- limit your caffeine intake
- don’t drink more than one boozy bevy a day
FYI: Even if endometriosis runs in your fam, it’s not guaranteed you’re gonna get it. But it’s still a good idea to let your doc know you have a family history of the disease.
Endometriosis treatments depend on your unique uterus sitch. It can also depend on:
- your age
- how severe your symptoms are
- how much endometrial-like tissue you have
- if you want to get pregnant at some point
Here’s a rundown of the most popular treatment options.
Hormone treatments can lower estrogen levels and prevent ovulation. This might help reduce endometriosis symptoms like heavy bleeding and pain. You can opt for the pill, injections, or nasal spray.
They can provide temporary relief, but can’t cure the condition. Ask your doc about an Rx pain reliever if over-the-counter (OTC) meds don’t do it for ya.
If hormonal therapies don’t make the cut — or if your symptoms are severe — your doc might suggest a surgical procedure.
The three most common surgeries for endometriosis are:
- Laparoscopy. A minimally-invasive procedure that only requires small incisions. Your surgeon will use heat, a knife, or a laser to remove the endometriosis tissue from the affected areas.
- Laparotomy (aka open surgery). This might be performed if endometriosis patches can’t be removed with laparoscopic surgery.
- Hysterectomy. This is when your entire uterus is removed. Sometimes your cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are also taken out. Recovery time varies from person-to-person, but most folks bounce back in about 6 to 8 weeks. PSA: You won’t be able to get pregnant after this surgery.
NOTE: Endometriosis can return after surgery. Symptoms reappear in about 40 to 80 percent of peeps within 2 years of surgery.
What gives with endometriosis and infertility?
About 40 percent of folks with infertility also have endometriosis, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Certain surgical procedures like laparoscopy or laparotomy might increase your chances of getting your eggo preggo. But this all depends on your individual situation.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that causes endometrial-like tissues to grow outside the uterus. While there’s currently no cure, lots of top-notch treatments can reduce your symptoms.
Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause, but there’s a good chance your genetics increase your risk.
Let your gyno know if endometriosis runs in your fam. They can monitor your health, especially if you start to show symptoms.