Endometriosis is one of the most common gynecological diseases, and it’s the leading cause of infertility. It affects about 5 million women in the United States, many in their 30s and 40s. Nearly 2 of every 5 women who can’t get pregnant have it.
It’s a painful condition in which tissue that should be growing inside the uterus grows on the outside. These growths can block your fallopian tubes or cover your ovaries.
The good news is that there are treatment options, but each has different rates of success.
The growths are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. But when they interfere with your reproductive organs, your ability to get pregnant can become an issue:
- When endometrial tissue wraps around your ovaries, it can block your eggs from releasing.
- The tissue can block sperm from making its way up your fallopian tubes.
- It can also stop a fertilized egg from sliding down your tubes to your uterus.
A surgeon can fix those problems, but endometriosis can make it hard for you to conceive in other ways:
- It can change your body’s hormonal chemistry.
- It can cause your body’s immune system to attack the embryo.
- It can affect the layer of tissue lining your uterus where the egg implants itself.
There are several treatment options for endometriosis. First, your doctor can surgically remove the endometrial tissue. This clears the way for the sperm to fertilize the egg.
If surgery isn’t an option, you might consider intrauterine insemination (IUI), which involves placing your partner’s sperm directly in your uterus.
Your doctor may consider pairing IUI with something called “controlled ovarian hyperstimulation” -- using medicine to help your ovaries produce more eggs. Women who use this technique are more likely to conceive than those who don’t get help.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is also another option. It can increase your chances of conceiving, although the statistics on IVF pregnancies vary. One study showed that women’s odds of getting pregnant by IVF were four times greater if they had GnRH agonist (hormone) treatment beforehand, but it cautioned that more research is needed.