The best medication for endometriosis depends on multiple factors, including a person’s age, their symptoms, and whether they want to get pregnant.

There is no cure for endometriosis, but hormone therapy, pain relievers, and hormonal contraceptives may improve the symptoms. Surgery is also an option.

This article will look at the medications and other treatments a doctor may suggest for endometriosis.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Endometriosis is a chronic condition that occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other areas of the body. When the tissue bleeds in response to changes in hormone levels, it can cause inflammation and pain.

Endometriosis affects 11% of females aged 15–44 in the United States. This condition can make it harder to get pregnant and, in some cases, can lead to infertility.

The symptoms include:

Learn more about endometriosis and infertility.

Endometriosis has no cure. However, doctors can recommend ways to help ease the symptoms.

The best medication for endometriosis will depend on multiple factors, including the person’s age, the severity of their symptoms, and whether they want to get pregnant.

If a person is not trying to get pregnant, doctors may suggest that they use hormonal birth control to manage endometriosis symptoms.

Hormonal contraceptives can make periods shorter, lighter, and more regular and help ease the menstruation-related symptoms of endometriosis, including pain. This works best in people whose pain and other symptoms are not severe.

This section looks at some examples of hormonal contraceptives.

Estrogen and progestin pill

Doctors usually prescribe this type of oral contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. They may also recommend it for people with endometriosis because it can make a person’s periods lighter and less painful.

The pill contains two female sex hormones: estrogen and progestin. This combination prevents ovulation, the release of eggs from the ovaries. Doctors will recommend that a person take this pill every day.

Some people will need to take the pill every day for 21 days and then have a 7-day break for a period. Others will take it continuously.

Progestin-only pill (POP)

Some females, including those with cardiovascular disease and those at a high risk of developing blood clots, cannot take estrogen. In these cases, doctors may recommend the POP.

The POP contains only one female hormone, progestin. It works by preventing ovulation and changing the mucus that lines the uterus.

A person will have to take this pill at the same time every day for it to be effective. A doctor will recommend taking this pill every day without a 7-day break.

Progestin intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic that a healthcare professional can insert into a person’s uterus. There are different types, including a hormonal progestin IUD and a nonhormonal copper IUD.

A progestin IUD releases tiny amounts of the hormone progestin into the body over time. Doctors mainly recommend it to prevent pregnancy, but it may also reduce endometriosis pain.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the progestin IUD may reduce the size of endometriosis lesions and make periods lighter.

Risks and side effects

Hormonal contraception is not a good endometriosis treatment option for people who want to get pregnant. It is also worth noting that hormonal contraceptives will ease the symptoms for only as long as the person uses them.

These medications can also have side effects, such as:

A person should always discuss risks and side effects with a doctor before taking any new medication.

Learn more

Learn more about hormonal contraceptives and endometriosis.

Hormones cause the patches of endometriosis tissue to bleed in response to a person’s menstrual cycle.

Because of this, changing a person’s hormone levels may stop the tissue from bleeding and relieve some endometriosis symptoms. Hormones may also slow the growth of the tissue.

Hormone treatments stop periods, so they are suitable only for those who do not want to get pregnant. They stop the ovaries from producing hormones, including estrogen.

This section looks at the typical hormone therapies a doctor may suggest for endometriosis.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists

These drugs stop ovulation and send the body into a “menopausal state.” This stops the endometriosis from getting any worse.

GnRH agonists come in the form of pills, injections, or nasal spray. Healthcare professionals usually recommend taking GnRH agonists for no longer than 6–24 months at a time, depending on the dosage. This is because taking them for longer increases the risk of bone loss and heart complications.

Examples include:

Aromatase inhibitors

Aromatase inhibitors lower estrogen levels.

According to the NIH, some research has shown that these could be useful for treating endometriosis pain. However, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved them for this purpose in the U.S. Researchers still consider this an experimental approach.

Danazol

Danazol lowers estrogen levels and increases levels of the male sex hormone androgen. This stops ovulation and periods, easing the symptoms of endometriosis.

Risks and side effects

Hormonal treatments, such as hormonal contraceptives and hormone therapy, last only as long as the person takes them. When a person stops taking the medication, the symptoms will return.

Possible side effects of hormonal treatments include:

Some hormonal medications, such as GnRH agonists, can increase the risk of heart complications.

Possible side effects of Danazol include oily skin, acne, and breast soreness.

Danazol can also harm a developing fetus. People who take it should avoid hormonal birth control. Instead, those who use Danazol should use barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms or a diaphragm, to prevent pregnancy.

A type of pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help ease mild pain and other symptoms of endometriosis.

These medications work by slowing the body’s production of prostaglandins, a type of hormone involved in the inflammation that contributes to pain.

Common types of NSAIDs include:

Risks and side effects

Some possible side effects of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are:

NSAIDs may also cause stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.

This section looks at other treatments for endometriosis, such as surgery and lifestyle changes.

Surgery

Sometimes, doctors may suggest removing some or all of the endometriosis tissue. This can ease the pain, but it will not cure the condition. The endometriosis can still come back. Doctors will usually recommend surgery only when the pain is severe.

They may suggest one of the following operations:

  • Laparoscopy: The surgeon inflates the lower abdomen and then makes two or more small cuts. They then insert a small viewing instrument with a light on the end. Next, the surgeon uses a laser to remove the endometriosis tissue.
  • Laparotomy: During a laparotomy, instead of making smaller cuts, the doctor makes a large incision to examine the organs. They may then remove any endometriosis tissue they find. A surgeon may recommend this to someone with deeply infiltrative endometriosis.
  • Hysterectomy: This is a major operation in which the surgeon removes the uterus. Doctors tend to recommend a hysterectomy as a last resort.
Learn more

Learn more about surgery for endometriosis.

Diet and nutrition

According to a 2021 review, some foods may have a positive or negative effect on endometriosis symptoms.

The researchers suggest that taking fish oil capsules alongside vitamin B12 may have a positive impact on endometriosis symptoms. However, consuming alcohol, red meat, and trans fats could cause negative effects.

Additionally, eating a balanced diet that contains a range of fruits and vegetables may help prevent endometriosis from developing or worsening. A 2015 review suggests that a nutritious diet may benefit endometriosis.

The review notes that the following foods may be beneficial:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • foods containing omega-3 fatty acids

A person with endometriosis may want to keep a food journal and observe whether their symptoms worsen or improve depending on their diet. Identifying and limiting any problematic foods may help a person relieve their symptoms.

Learn more

Learn more about diet.

Lifestyle changes

Doctors are not sure of the link between lifestyle and endometriosis. Studies are ongoing, but some of the headlines from the latest research are as follows:

  • Avoiding alcohol: The 2021 review indicates that higher alcohol consumption may contribute to the risk of developing endometriosis. The researchers suggest that people with endometriosis avoid alcohol.
  • Following a low fat diet: A diet high in trans fats may contribute to the risk of developing endometriosis.
  • Physical activity: Researchers are unsure whether exercise can help ease the symptoms of endometriosis. A 2017 review suggests that physical activity may reduce pain and improve quality of life in adults living with chronic pain, although the researchers did not find this in all studies.
  • Yoga: In a 2016 study involving 15 women with pain-associated endometriosis, researchers found that practicing yoga for 8 weeks helped the women manage their pain.
Learn more

Learn more about help and advice for living with endometriosis.

Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It can be very painful, particularly during menstruation. In some cases, it can lead to infertility.

There is no cure for endometriosis. Doctors can suggest ways to manage the symptoms, including hormonal contraceptives, hormone therapies, and over-the-counter pain medicines such as NSAIDs. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery.