There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but there are:
Health care providers will consider several factors when determining the best treatment for endometriosis symptoms, including:
It is also important to note that not all treatments work well for all women with endometriosis. Similarly, there is always the chance that the endometriosis symptoms may return after the treatment is stopped or, in the case of surgery, as more time passes since the treatment.
Treatments for endometriosis pain fall into three general categories:
Pain medications may work well if your pain or other symptoms are mild. These medications range from over-the-counter pain relievers to strong prescription pain relievers.
The most common types of pain relievers are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDS (pronounced ENN-sedds), and opioids (pronounced OH-pee-oyds), strong pain drugs that interact directly with the nervous system.
Evidence on the effectiveness of these medications for relieving endometriosis-associated pain is limited. Understanding which drugs relieve pain associated with endometriosis could also shed light on how endometriosis causes pain.1,2
Because hormones cause endometriosis patches to go through a cycle similar to the menstrual cycle, hormones also can be effective in treating the symptoms of endometriosis. Additionally, our perception of pain may be altered by different hormones.
Hormone therapy is used to treat endometriosis-associated pain. Hormones come in the form of a pill, a shot or injection, or a nasal spray.
Hormone treatments stop the ovaries from producing hormones, including estrogen, and usually prevent ovulation. This may help slow the growth and local activity of both the endometrium and the endometrial lesions. Treatment also prevents the growth of new areas and scars (adhesions), but it will not make existing adhesions go away.
Health care providers may suggest one of the hormone treatments described below to treat pain from endometriosis3,2,4:
Researchers are exploring the use of other hormones for treating endometriosis and the pain related to it. One example is gestrinone (pronounced GES-trih-nohn), which has been used in Europe but is not available in the United States. Drugs that lower the amount of estrogen in the body, called aromatase (pronounced uh-ROH-muh-tase) inhibitors, are also being studied. Some research shows that they can be effective in reducing endometriosis pain, but they are still considered experimental in the United States. They are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of endometriosis.8
Research shows that some surgical treatments can provide significant, although short-term, pain relief from endometriosis,2 so health care providers may recommend surgery to treat severe pain from endometriosis. During the operation, the surgeon can locate any areas of endometriosis and examine the size and degree of growth; he or she also may remove the endometriosis patches at that time.
It is important to understand what is planned during surgery as some procedures cannot be reversed and others can affect a woman's fertility. Therefore, a woman should have a detailed discussion with a health care provider about all available options before making final decisions about treatment.
Health care providers may suggest one of the following surgical treatments for pain from endometriosis.1,2,3
In some cases, hormone therapy is used before or after surgery to reduce pain and/or continue treatment. Current evidence supports the use of an intrauterine device (IUD) containing progestin after surgery to reduce pain.6 Currently, the only such device approved by the FDA is Mirena®.
In most cases, health care providers will recommend laparoscopy to remove or vaporize the growths as a way to also improve fertility in women who have mild or minimal endometriosis.6 Although studies show improved pregnancy rates following this type of surgery, the success rate is not clear.
If pregnancy does not occur after laparoscopic treatment, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be the best option to improve fertility. Taking any other hormonal therapy usually used for endometriosis-associated pain will only suppress ovulation and delay pregnancy. Performing another laparoscopy is not the preferred approach to improving fertility unless symptoms of pain prevent undergoing IVF. Multiple surgeries, especially those that remove cysts from the ovaries, may reduce ovarian function and hamper the success of IVF.6
IVF makes it possible to combine sperm and eggs in a laboratory to make an embryo. Then the resulting embryos are placed into the woman's uterus. IVF is one type of assisted reproductive technology that may be an option for women and families affected by infertility related to endometriosis.
In general, the process of IVF involves the following steps. First, a woman takes hormones to cause "superovulation," which triggers her body to produce many eggs at one time. Once mature, the eggs are collected from the woman, using a probe inserted into the vagina and guided by ultrasound. The collected eggs are placed in a dish for fertilization with a man's sperm. The fertilized cells are then placed in an incubator, a machine that keeps them warm and allows them to develop into embryos. After 3 to 5 days, the embryos are transferred to the woman's uterus. It takes about 2 weeks to know if the process is successful.
Even though the use of hormones in IVF is successful in treating infertility related to endometriosis, other forms of hormone therapy are not as successful. For instance, ACOG does not recommend using oral contraceptive pills or GnRH agonists to treat endometriosis-related infertility. The use of these hormonal agents prevents ovulation and delays pregnancy.2,9
In addition, the hormones used during IVF do not cure the endometriosis lesions, which means that pain may recur after pregnancy and that not all women with endometriosis are able to become pregnant with IVF. Researchers are still looking for hormone treatments for infertility due to endometriosis.
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