Endometriosis can cause excruciating menstrual cramps, gastrointestinal problems and pain during sex, and is generally most troubling during a woman's reproductive years. While it would seem that once a woman had gone through menopause, endometriosis would no longer be an issue, the truth is that the symptoms of endometriosis do not necessarily immediately disappear once a woman stops menstruating.
What is Endometriosis?
When tissue lining which is similar in makeup to the lining of the uterus shows up in places it shouldn't be-the walls of the abdominal cavity, outer surfaces of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and bladder-endometriosis occurs. Just like your uterine lining builds up each month and sheds in response to your periods, endometriosis tissue also builds up, however instead of exiting through the vagina, the tissue is trapped, which in turn triggers inflammation and scar tissue. Most women note that the symptoms of endometriosis seem to get worse as time passes, although some women experience cycles of remission, then re-occurrence. Aside from the pain of endometriosis, women may experience fatigue, painful bowel movements with periods, lower back pain or other intestinal upsets during their periods. About 30-40% of women with endometriosis will have fertility issues.
How Menopause Can Improve the Symptoms of Endometriosis
Many women experience a reduction in the pain of endometriosis once they have gone through menopause-while menopause does not "cure" endometriosis per se, it seems to put it to sleep for the majority of women. The reduction in estrogen seems to tame the worst of the symptoms related to endometriosis in most-but not all-women.
When Endometriosis is Not Cured By Menopause
Because estrogen fuels the growth of endometriosis, it would make sense that declining levels of estrogen during the pre-menopausal years and during full menopause would lessen the symptoms of endometriosis. The reality is, that even after your periods are no longer making an appearance each month, the ovaries are still producing at least small amounts of estrogen, therefore endometriosis still may be a significant problem. One of the oldest patients with document endometriosis was 78 years old, so you can see that it is, in fact, very possible. Experiencing endometriosis symptoms following menopause is more likely if you have a significant amount of scar tissues, or if you are taking hormone replacement therapy which is still fueling your body with estrogen. Another cause of continued endometriosis after menopause is related to the presence of high endogenous estrogen in the very obese.
While the specific cause of endometriosis is unknown, some believe that all women experience menstrual tissue backup, however only those who have immune system issues or hormonal problems will experience the tissue taking root and growing. There is also a theory that endometriosis is genetic, meaning you may be predisposed to the disease if other women in your family experience it. If you have suffered for years with endometriosis, you may actually be looking forward to menopause as a way to relieve your severe symptoms, however you may be one of the less-lucky women for whom endometriosis continues following menopause.