In addition to wanting to have a baby, a large percentage of the female patients we treat at HRC Fertility have something else in common: endometriosis. This reproductive disease is one of the most frequent causes of infertility, affecting approximately 40 percent of patients. Many are not aware that the menstrual cramps and generalized pelvic pain they have experienced for years are symptoms of a medical condition preventing them from becoming pregnant.

In observance of Endometriosis Awareness Month in March, we want to educate our readers with some important facts about this very common reason for female infertility.

Endometriosis affects millions of women

At least five to seven million women in the U.S. have endometriosis, which equates to roughly 10 percent of the female reproductive-age population. Worldwide, it is estimated that 176 million are afflicted.

Endometriosis runs in families and can affect young girls who've started to menstruate, as well as women in their 30s and 40s. Symptoms may or may not continue after menopause.

Endometriosis affects much more than the endometrium

Endometriosis occurs when displaced tissue, similar to what is found in the uterine (endometrium) lining, attaches itself to different places in the pelvic region. Sometimes, it travels to organs in the digestive tract and bladder and, rarely, to distant regions like the liver and lungs. However, the fallopian tubes, peritoneum and ovaries are commonly affected areas. It can cause intense pelvic pain, especially during a woman's menstrual cycle and, sometimes, during sexual intercourse. It also causes infertility.

It can take a long time to be diagnosed with endometriosis

Any female who has gone through puberty and had their first period can suffer from endometriosis. However, many women don't know they have this condition until they start trying - unsucessfully - to have a baby. This happens despite attempts to find medical help for their symptoms.

Some researchers have estimated it can take up to 10 years for a diagnosis. Often, girls are taught that painful periods are nromal rather than a symptom of a medical condition that can be treated.

There are four stages of endometriosis

These stages range from mild to severe and are defined by the location, size and severity of the adhesions and implants and whether chocolate cysts (endometriosis) are present. There is also a correlation between the higher stages of endometriosis and the prevalence of infertility.

Most women, however, have mild or moderate endometriosis (stages 1 & 2), yet still have difficulty achieving a pregnancy without treatment.

IVF helps patients get pregnant; pregnancy can reduce symptoms

Laparoscopic surgery and medications may still be recommended for some patients, depending on the severity of their adhesions, inflammation and symptoms.

For patients anxious to achieve a pregnancy, IVF may be their best option. Success rates are comparable for that achieved for other causes of infertility, but vary greatly by a woman's age.

Some endometriosis sufferers find that pregnancy may alleviate their endometriosis symptoms, at least temporarily.

Endometriosis is a complex disease that can be frustrating for patients until it is diagnosed and treated properly by an infertility specialist, like our doctors at HRC Fertility.