Harvard Women's Health Watch

Endometriosis at midlife and beyond

Endometriosis symptoms usually subside after menopause, but not always. And they are sometimes related to other health problems.

Crippling menstrual cramps, gastrointestinal problems, and pain during sex are among the most common and distressing symptoms of endometriosis, a gynecological disorder that affects as many as 1 in 10 women. The disease occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) shows up on the walls of the abdominal cavity and the outer surfaces of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel, bladder, and nearby organs. Rarely, endometriosis appears in the heart, lungs, and brain.

Like the endometrium, this wayward tissue builds up and sheds monthly in response to the menstrual cycle. But unlike menstrual fluid, which exits through the vagina, the blood and tissue from endometriosis lesions remain trapped, triggering inflammation and adhesions (weblike scar tissue that binds organs together). Endometriosis can also distort the large intestine, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, causing bowel problems and infertility. Experts estimate that among women with pelvic pain, infertility, or both, 35%–50% have endometriosis.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »