Endometriosis is a chronic, progressive condition. Doctors do not consider endometriosis an autoimmune disease, but it may have links to autoimmune conditions.
Endometriosis affects approximately 1 in 10 women living in the United States. It occurs when the tissue lining the inside of the uterus grows in other areas of the body, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or bladder.
These endometriosis lesions become inflamed and bleed, causing pain and other symptoms.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- severe cramps
- chronic pelvic pain
- nausea or vomiting
- heavy menstrual flow
- long periods
- pain during sex
- bowel or urinary problems
Researchers do not know why endometriosis affects some people and not others. Keep reading for more information on endometriosis and its relationship with autoimmune disorders.
The reason for the link is unclear, but it might exist because endometriosis causes inflammation, which may contribute to an imbalanced immune response.
An autoimmune disease is one in which the body mistakenly attacks its cells, tissues, or organs. The resulting damage can cause a wide variety of symptoms, depending on which part of the body it affects.
The abnormal immune response that occurs in endometriosis may be due to an existing autoimmune disorder. The evidence is not clear as to which condition causes the other.
There is still no conclusive cause of endometriosis, and researchers do not yet know what triggers the condition. However, abnormal immune system responses and genetics may be among the factors that play a role in the development of the disorder.
A person with endometriosis may also have an increased risk of comorbidities. Comorbidities are conditions that exist alongside a primary condition.
Autoimmune disorders that research has at least partially connected to endometriosis include:
According to older research, the following autoimmune diseases also occur more often in people with endometriosis:
Some types of cancer that a person with endometriosis may be more susceptible to include:
Also, the authors of a study in Obstetrics & Gynecologyconcluded that there is no clear connection between overall breast cancer risk and endometriosis. However, they noted that endometriosis did increase the risk of developing a particular type of breast cancer called estrogen receptor-positive/progesterone receptor-negative (ER+/PR−) breast cancer.
Treatment for an autoimmune disease typically focuses on suppressing the immune system so that it stops attacking healthy cells in the body. Endometriosis does not appear to respond to any known treatments for autoimmunity.
Research on existing autoimmune disease medications (anti-TNF and pentoxifylline) found that these drugs were not effective in reducing endometriosis symptoms.
The primary treatment methods for endometriosis involve managing the symptoms, as there is currently no cure. Most treatment plans include hormonal medications and pain relievers.
The most common treatments for endometriosis include:
Endometriosis is not an autoimmune disease, but some evidence suggests that there is a link between endometriosis and several autoimmune conditions.
If a person with endometriosis is concerned about their risk of developing an autoimmune disease or thinks that an existing autoimmune disease may be affecting their endometriosis symptoms, they should speak to a doctor.