Is endometriosis hereditary? What you need to know

Endometriosis sufferers may be more likely to have a close relative with the condition. Nonetheless, work is still under way on the potential link.

Endometriosis is a stressful disease. Besides heredity, other factors can increase a person’s risk of developing it.

Read about the possible relationship between genetics and endometriosis, and the other risk factors, in this article.

Is endometriosis hereditary?

Further research is needed to decide if there is a genetic factor in endometriosis.
Further research is needed to decide if there is a genetic factor in endometriosis.

Preliminary work suggests endometriosis may have an inherited aspect. Nonetheless, age is unlikely to be the only risk factor, or the most strong.

A 2010 study included 80 endometriosis participants, and 60 without endometriosis. Endometriosis sufferers were more likely to have a parent with the disorder.

Nearly 5.9 percent of endometriosis participants had a first degree relative with the condition, compared to just 3 percent of those without the health problem.

While the probability of having a relative with the condition in the endometriosis group nearly doubled, the likelihood was still very small.

The study found no significant variations in symptoms when comparing those of endometriosis patients and a family history of the problem and those of endometriosis patients but no family history.

There are many factors which complicate it. For example, up until recently, many doctors had been ill-informed about endometriosis and it was often misdiagnosed. Some research suggests as many as 70 percent of cases were undetected in the 1970s.

This means that moms and other relatives of endometriosis patients may have had the disease but never received a diagnosis.

An endometriosis gene?

Researchers are continuing to look for particular genetic causes of endometriosis.

One potential target is a variant of a gene called β1 gene-509C / T transforming growth factor. Nonetheless, a 2012 meta-analysis of prior research found no significant link between this gene and the disease.

A 2019 study identified over two dozen genes that have been related to endometriosis by various studies. Researchers nonetheless have yet to show that the condition is necessarily triggered by any specific gene.

Instead, researchers suggest that gene-environmental interactions may play a part.

Epigenetic factors that play a role in endometriosis according to a 2016 study. These are factors which may alter the expression of genes.

Without exposure to certain epigenetic risk factors such as stress or pollution, a person with a gene that increases the risk of endometriosis may not develop the disease.

Because family members often live in similar environments, they may share epigenetic risk factors within a family.

Other risk factors

A person with endometriosis can experience unusually frequent periods which last longer than 7 days.

Pelvic pain is the primary symptom and a person may also experience stomach or digestive problems, such as constipation, which correlate with menstruation.

Endometriosis patients will be more likely to have had their first periods before the age of 11, and more likely to experience infertility.

A range of factors, beyond the possible genetic link, may increase the risk of developing endometriosis including:

Some of those causes may be genetic in themselves.

With age the risk of endometriosis increases. This can be attributed to the combination of lifestyle consequences and environmental factors. Or, it might be that endometriosis associated genes change with age.

Statistics

Endometriosis affects at least 176 million women worldwide, and at least 1 in 10 women in the US.

Depression rates in people with chronic illnesses, including endometriosis, are 15–20 percent higher. Chronic pain is often a major factor.

One survey of doctors in a French area found that 63 percent had no confidence in their ability to treat endometriosis, and only half could name three key signs of the disease.

According to one study, the time it takes to treat endometriosis tends to shorten in the US. In average however, women with endometriosis wait between the onset of symptoms and the final diagnosis for 4–11 years.

A 2016 Dutch study found the average diagnosis period to be more than 5 years. The researchers reported that the blame for this delay was on average for doctors for 2 years.

Findings like these suggest the symptoms are new to physicians and the public. Most people with endometriosis either assume their symptoms are “natural” or something they must “deal with.”

Symptoms

Endometriosis allows tissue to develop outside the uterus which is close to the uterine lining. Based on where the tissue develops, this can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Symptoms vary from:

  • pelvic pain, which may be severe
  • fertility problems
  • bleeding from the rectum
  • bleeding between periods
  • passing large blood clots during a period
  • heavy periods that last a long time or come very frequently
  • pain during sex
  • chronic lower back pain
  • leg pain
  • pain when urinating
  • digestive issues or painful bowel movements, especially during menstruation

Can it be prevented?

There is no proof that endometriosis is preventable by a individual.

Endometriosis is an oestrogen-dependent disease, and reducing the body’s estrogen levels can reduce the risk of the condition or improve symptoms in people who have it already.

Several methods for reducing levels of oestrogens include:

  • exercising regularly
  • having no more than one caffeinated drink a day
  • having no more than one alcoholic drink a day
  • switching to a birth control method with less or no estrogen, if applicable

Endometriosis may decrease fertility for women who want to become pregnant, but certain medicines and approaches can help.

A doctor may do surgery to remove tissue and adhesions from the endometriosis.

Summary

Although endometriosis can occur in families, many endometriosis sufferers are unable to recognise a relative with the disease.

This may be because people do not tend to talk about unpleasant reproductive health problems, or because, until recently, endometriosis has not been a well known condition.

A person with symptoms but no family history of the disease should not take it for granted that they do not.

Anyone with signs of endometriosis should seek diagnosis and treatment with a doctor.

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