The female gynecological system is a marvel to behold, capable of transforming a fertilized egg into a fully developed fetus in a mere nine months. However remarkable, that same system is vulnerable to adverse complications.

Endometriosis, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, affects an estimated 2 to 10 percent of American women of childbearing age. The World Health Organization says endometriosis affects roughly 10 percent of the same age group across the globe. Endometriosis is a potentially painful condition that impacts quality of life and the ability to bear children.

With endometriosis, tissue similar to that which normally lines the inside of the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside of the uterus. This wayward tissue can form on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and other parts of the pelvis, states the Mayo Clinic. The endometrial-like tissue also acts as endometrial tissue would. That means it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle, guided by the same hormones that affect normal endometrial tissue. Because this abnormal tissue cannot exit the body through the vagina during a menstrual period, it becomes trapped, irritating areas of the pelvis and eventually causing the formation of scar tissue and even organ adhesions.

The most common symptom of endometriosis is pain in various areas of the body. That pain may manifest itself through very painful menstrual cramps that get worse over time; chronic pain in the lower back and pelvis; pain during or after intercourse; and intestinal pain and painful bowel movements.

In addition, the U.S. Office on Women’s Health says bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods, digestive problems, and difficulty becoming pregnant are other potential indicators of endometriosis. Scar tissue formation, as well as the development of fibrous adhesions which can bind organs together, produces pain and other symptoms.

Doctors are not sure what causes endometriosis, although it does run in some families. There are theories that immune system deficits may fail to recognize and destroy endometrial tissue found outside the uterus. During Cesarean sections or other abdominal surgeries, endometrial tissue could be picked up and moved by mistake, thereby contributing to endometriosis.

Endometriosis tends to last as long as one’s menstrual years. Some women find relief from endometriosis after they go through menopause when hormones affecting endometrial tissue wane. In the interim, doctors may recommend certain hormone therapies or hormone inhibitors to reduce symptoms. Surgery to temporarily remove wayward endometrial-like tissue from the ovaries and pelvis may increase chances of a successful pregnancy.

Endometriosis is a gynecological illness that can be painful and disrupt life. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help women find relief.