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Understanding endometriosis and your fertility

After trying to conceive for a year or more without success, you might become frustrated and eager for a solution. While there isn’t always one distinct cause, there are a number of factors and conditions that can inhibit a woman from developing or sustaining a normal, healthy pregnancy. One of the most common conditions that affects a woman’s fertility is endometriosis.

What is endometriosis?

The lining of your uterus is known as the endometrium. Each month, during your regular menstrual cycle, this tissue builds up and sheds. Endometriosis is a disease that involves endometrial-like tissue growing outside of the uterus, often resulting in the formation of adhesions and scar tissue throughout the pelvic cavity. Affecting about 1 in 10 women in the U.S., this condition can impact a woman’s ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. In rare cases, endometriosis can spread beyond a woman’s reproductive organs to other parts of the body. 

Endometriosis is a painful, complex and often misdiagnosed disease. Some of the symptoms can also be a little bit uncomfortable, or hard to talk about with your doctor. You might experience symptoms like severe cramping, pain during intercourse and unusually heavy periods. Endometriosis can masquerade as a number of other ailments, such as ovarian cysts, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Northwell Health physicians are highly skilled in the diagnosis and management of this condition. Our fertility specialists will also help you understand and navigate any impact this condition may have on your family planning future.

How does it affect your fertility?

Having endometriosis does not mean you’re automatically infertile. Many women who have been diagnosed with endometriosis go on to have healthy, successful pregnancies. Factors such as the severity of the condition and a woman’s age play a major role. Severe endometriosis can impact the development of adhesions and scar tissue, which interferes with the normal fertilization and implantation process. Additionally, as a woman with endometriosis ages, the impact on her ovarian reserve increases.

While there isn’t one proven cause, there are a number of theories that aim to explain why it is more difficult for women with endometriosis to become pregnant:

  • The distortion of a woman’s reproductive system may cause the fallopian tubes and ovaries to become blocked, preventing the sperm and egg from coming into contact.
  • Endometriosis may inhibit ovulation, causing eggs to become trapped in the ovaries.
  • Endometriosis could produce chemicals that prevent the movement of the egg down the fallopian tube.

What are my treatment options?

If you’re currently having trouble reproducing or worried about family planning in the future due to your endometriosis diagnosis, there are steps you can take toward achieving your desired outcome. Our reproductive endocrinologists and fertility experts are here to help you navigate this condition and your reproductive future. 

If you’re in your mid-to-late 20s and aren’t quite ready to start a family, but see a biological child in your future, you might be a good candidate for egg freezing. Through this process, your eggs are harvested, frozen and stored for future use. This procedure allows you to “pause your biological clock” and preserve your fertility.

If you’re a little bit further along in the family planning process, your specialist might recommend a fertility treatment such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Our experts will work with you every step of the way to ensure the treatment process fits your individual condition and your desired outcome.

When it comes to managing endometriosis and protecting your fertility, it’s important to maintain an open line of communication with your physician or specialist. This condition can be painful, and the symptoms may be uncomfortable and embarrassing to talk about but being transparent with your doctor can make all the difference. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this condition does not define you, or your family planning path.

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