Endometriosis occurs when endometrium-like tissue grows outside the uterus in areas like the ovaries, abdomen and bowel. This results in very painful cramping, bleeding, stomach problems, and other symptoms.
In rare cases, endometriosis can cause medical conditions that have the potential to become fatal if left untreated. Keep reading to find out more about the condition and its potential complications.
Can you die from endometriosis?
Endometriosis creates endometrial cells that resemble the uterus lining, causing them to grow in atypical places in the body instead of inside of the uterus.
Endometrial tissue plays a role in the bleeding that occurs during a woman’s menstrual cycle and cramping that expels the uterine lining.
When endometrium-like tissue tissue grows outside the uterus, the results can be painful and problematic.
Endometriosis can result in the following complications, which could be fatal if untreated:
Small bowel obstruction
Endometriosis can cause uterine tissue to grow in the intestines in anywhere from 3 to 37 percent of women with the condition.
In rare cases, the tissue can cause bleeding and scarring that leads to intestinal obstruction (blockage of the intestine).
A small bowel obstruction can cause symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, and problems passing gas or stool.
If left untreated, a bowel obstruction can cause pressure to build up, possibly resulting in a bowel perforation (a hole in the bowel). A blockage can also decrease blood supply to the intestines. Both can be fatal.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. This can cause the fallopian tube to rupture, which can lead to internal bleeding.
According to an analysis of 15 studies, women with endometriosis are more likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy.
Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include vaginal bleeding that’s abnormal, mild cramping occurring on one side of the pelvis, and low back pain.
If you have endometriosis and experience symptoms of either bowel obstruction or ectopic pregnancy, seek immediate medical treatment.
Having endometriosis doesn’t mean you’ll get tissue growing in either your bowel or fallopian tubes. The potential endometriosis complications discussed above are rare and also highly treatable.
Can you die from untreated endometriosis?
Doctors don’t yet have a cure for endometriosis, but treatments can help to manage this condition.
Without treatment, you could be at greater risk for health complications. While these aren’t likely to be fatal, they can diminish your quality of life.
Examples of potential complications from untreated endometriosis include:
- Chronic pain. Endometriosis can cause pain in the areas it affects and beyond. Treating endometriosis may help reduce this pain.
- Infertility. An estimated 30 to 50 percent of infertile women have endometriosis.
- Ovarian cysts. These can cause pelvic pain, pain during sex, and heavy or irregular periods.
- Problems with urination. These can occur if endometriosis affects your bladder.
Treating endometriosis can ideally help reduce the risks of these potential complications. Talk to a doctor about potential complications and ways to minimize them.
When to see a doctor?
See a doctor if you have potential endometriosis symptoms, including:
- bleeding or spotting between periods
- infertility (if you don’t get pregnant after a year of sex without using birth control methods)
- very painful menstrual cramps or bowel movements
- pain during sex
- unexplained stomach issues (for example, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, or bloating) that often worsen around your menstrual period
Diagnosing the condition
An estimated 6 to 10 percent of women in their reproductive years have endometriosis.
The only way a doctor can diagnose endometriosis for certain is through surgical removal of tissue for testing.
However, most doctors can make an educated guess that a woman has endometriosis based on less invasive testing. These include:
- imaging to identify abnormal areas
- pelvic exam to feel for areas of scarring
Doctors may also prescribe medications that treat endometriosis as a means of diagnosing the condition: If symptoms improve, the condition is likely the cause.
Treating endometriosis symptoms can involve a combination of home care, medications, and surgery. Treatments usually depend upon how severe your symptoms are.
Your doctor may recommend you take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), to reduce pain and swelling.
They may also prescribe hormones, such as hormonal birth control pills, which can help reduce the pain and bleeding that endometriosis causes. Another option is an intrauterine device (IUD) that releases hormones.
If you want to improve your chances of becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists. These drugs create a temporary menopause-like condition that can keep endometriosis from growing. Stopping the medicine will result in ovulation, which could make it easier to achieve pregnancy.
Doctors can perform surgery to remove the tissue in some places. But even after surgery, there’s a high risk of endometrial-like tissue coming back.
A hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes) is an option if a woman has severe pain. While this is no guarantee endometriosis symptoms will fully go away, it may improve symptoms in some women.
Home remedies and complementary therapies may reduce endometriosis pain. Examples include:
- applications of heat and cold to the painful areas
- chiropractic treatments
- herbal supplements, such as cinnamon and licorice root
- vitamin supplements, such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and thiamine (vitamin B-1)
Always talk to your doctor before taking any herbal or vitamin supplements to ensure those supplements won’t interact with other treatments.
While endometriosis is a painful condition that can affect your quality of life, it’s not considered a fatal disease.
In extremely rare instances, however, complications of endometriosis can cause potentially life threatening problems.
If you have concerns about endometriosis and its complications, talk with your doctor.
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