Pain associated with endometriosis: therapeutic options

Womens Health (Lond). 2006 Jul;2(4):617-26. doi: 10.2217/17455057.2.4.617.


Defined as the presence of functional endometrial tissue outside the uterine cavity, endometriosis is a chronic and recurrent disease that affects 7-10% of reproductive-age women, causing pain, infertility or both, resulting in serious life disruption, emotional and physical suffering, and decreased productivity. The observation that endometriosis is more common in women with early ménarche, polymenorrhea, outflow genital tract obstruction or a family history of disease suggests that its development depends on the complex interaction of genetic, immunological, environmental and hormonal factors. Current therapies for the management of endometriosis are medical, surgical or both. Medical therapies induce a hypoestrogenic state to reduce menstrual flow and apoptosis of endometriotic lesions. They include androgenic or progestational compounds and gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs, which are comparably effective but have very different adverse-effect profiles. Consequently, the choice of which medical treatment to prescribe may not be based on differences in efficacy but on differences in tolerability, safety and, when everything else is equal, cost. Although surgery to remove endometriosis is effective in relieving pain and restoring fertility, recurrence of symptoms is common and repeated medical and surgical interventions are often needed. The need for additional surgery may be reduced by the thorough excision of all lesions and disease at the initial surgery, followed by the postoperative administration of hormonal suppressive therapy with progestins to induce hypomenorrhea or amenorrhea. Definitive surgery with hysterectomy and removal of ovaries is frequently curative. Future therapies should be directed at identifying women at risk for the disease and implementing interventions that will prevent disease development altogether. Ultimately, the goal is to make endometriosis a disease of the past.