The Link Between Endometriosis and Autoimmune Disease
Last updated: January 2021
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects approximately 10% of women at a reproductive age.1The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but abnormalities of the immune system have been found, which is seen in the persistent inflammation that is characteristic of endometriosis. Abnormal immune responses and genetics are believed to play a role in the development of the disease.
Endometriosis is dependent on the hormone estrogen, and symptoms are often worse during menstruation. Hormonal treatments can suppress periods and reduce symptoms; However, this type of treatment doesn’t address the underlying cause of endometriosis (which is currently unknown), or the dysfunction of the immune system, which could explain why hormonal treatments such as The Pill don’t always alleviate symptoms.
Is endometriosis an autoimmune disease?
Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition, which means the immune system is involved, but it’s currently not classified as an autoimmune disease. However, endometriosis may increase the risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
It’s unclear why someone with endometriosis might have an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease, but it’s believed to be a result of inflammation, which may contribute to an abnormal immune response.1
Genetics play an important role in both endometriosis and autoimmune diseases, and research has found a link between autoimmune related genes and endometriosis. Also, while endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, hormones have found to increase the severity of autoimmune diseases.1 More studies are needed to understand whether they occur independently, or if they share similar pathophysiological mechanisms and which condition develops first.
The link between endometriosis and autoimmune conditions
There are many different autoimmune diseases that occur more often in women with endometriosis compared to women who don’t have endometriosis. These are:1
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- eliac disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Autoimmune treatments for endometriosis
Treatment for autoimmune diseases usually focuses of suppressing the immune system. Research has shown that endometriosis does not always respond to these medications.
The main treatments for endometriosis involve managing symptoms which are:
- Laparoscopy or surgery to remove the lesions
- Hormonal treatments such as the oral contraceptive pill or an intrauterine device such as the Mirena
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
- Natural treatments such as diet and supplements
- Manual therapies such as pelvic floor physiotherapy
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