About one in ten women of child-bearing age suffers from endometriosis, a fairly common condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body. According to a study published in Gut, women with endometriosis are almost twice as likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease compared to other females. The effect can last for up to 20 years following an endometriosis diagnosis.

Endometriosis and inflammatory bowel disease are both chronic inflammatory disorders that affect the bowel and cause abdominal pain. Both disorders commonly start in young adults.

Researchers monitored the long-term health of over 37,000 Danish women who were hospitalized with endometriosis between 1977 and 2007 for an average period of 13 years.

During this monitoring period, 320 of these women developed inflammatory bowel disease, of which 228 were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and 92 with Crohn's disease. This translates into a 50% higher risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease in those with endometriosis compared with women in the general population.

The average period it took for inflammatory bowel disease to develop in women after they were diagnosed with endometriosis was approximately 10 years.

When researchers restricted the study to those with surgically confirmed endometriosis, they discovered that the risk increased to 80% and that the effect persisted for over 20 years after the initial diagnosis.

The researchers conclude that the association between the two disorders could potentially be explained in that both disorders share common causes or, through the effects of endometriosis therapy. According to some research, using oral contraceptives, a common treatment for endometriosis over long-term could potentially increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.

Written by Petra Rattue