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Treatment - Endometriosis

There's no cure for endometriosis and it can be difficult to treat. Treatment aims to ease symptoms so the condition does not interfere with your daily life.

Treatment can be given to:

  • relieve pain
  • remove endometriosis tissue
  • improve fertility
  • reduce the chance of the condition returning

Deciding which treatment

Your gynaecologist will discuss the treatment options with you and outline the risks and benefits of each.

When deciding which treatment is right for you, there are several things to consider.

These include:

  • your age
  • what your main symptoms are, such as pain or difficulty getting pregnant
  • whether you might want to become pregnant in the future – some treatments may stop you getting pregnant
  • how you feel about surgery
  • whether you have tried any of the treatments before

Treatment may not be necessary if your symptoms are mild, you have no fertility problems, or you're nearing the menopause, when symptoms may get better without treatment.

Endometriosis sometimes gets better by itself, but it can get worse if it's not treated. One option is to keep an eye on symptoms and decide to have treatment if they get worse.

Support from self-help groups, such as Endometriosis UK, can be very useful if you're learning how to manage the condition.

Pain medication

Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, may be tried to see if they help reduce your pain. They can be used together for more severe pain.

These painkillers are available to buy from pharmacies.

Tell your doctor if you have been taking painkillers for a few months and you're still in pain.

For more information, read about pain relief for endometriosis on the Endometriosis UK website.

Hormone treatment

The aim of hormone treatment is to limit or stop the production of oestrogen in your body, as oestrogen encourages endometriosis tissue to grow and shed. 

Limiting oestrogen can shrink endometriosis tissue in the body and reduce pain from endometriosis.

But hormone treatment has no effect on adhesions ("sticky" areas of tissue that can cause organs to fuse together) and cannot improve fertility.

Find out more about adhesions and other complications of endometriosis

Some of the main hormone-based treatments for endometriosis include:

Evidence suggests these hormone treatments are equally effective at treating endometriosis, but they have different side effects.

You can discuss the different options and their side effects with your doctor.

Most hormone treatments reduce your chance of pregnancy while using them, but not all of them are licensed as contraceptives.

Contraceptive hormone treatments do not have a permanent effect on your fertility.

The combined oral contraceptive pill

The combined contraceptive pill contains the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. 

It can help relieve symptoms and can be used over long periods of time.

It stops eggs being released (ovulation) and make periods lighter and less painful.

This contraceptive can have side effects, but you can try different brands until you find one that suits you.

Your doctor may recommend taking 3 packs of the pill in a row, without a break, to minimise the bleeding and improve any symptoms related to the bleeding.

Progestogens

Progestogens are synthetic hormones that behave like the natural hormone progesterone.

They work by preventing the lining of your womb and any endometriosis tissue from growing quickly.

But they can have side effects, such as:

  • bloating
  • mood changes
  • irregular bleeding
  • weight gain

Progestogens used to treat endometriosis include:

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues

GnRH analogues are synthetic hormones that cause a temporary menopause by reducing the production of oestrogen.

They're sometimes given if other hormone treatments are not right for you, to help reduce pain, or after laparoscopic surgery for a short time.

GnRH analogues are not licensed as a form of contraception, so you should still use contraception while using them.

Surgery

Surgery can be used to remove or destroy areas of endometriosis tissue, which can help improve symptoms.

The kind of surgery you have will depend on where the endometriosis is and how much of it there is.

Some of the options are:

  • laparoscopy – the most commonly used technique
  • hysterectomy

Any surgical procedure carries risks. It's important to discuss these with your surgeon before undergoing treatment.

Laparoscopy

During laparoscopy, also known as keyhole surgery, small cuts (incisions) are made in your tummy so the endometriosis tissue can be destroyed or cut out.

Large incisions are avoided because the surgeon uses an instrument called a laparoscope.

This is a small tube with a light source and a camera, which sends images of the inside of your tummy or pelvis to a television monitor.

During laparoscopy, fine instruments are used to cut away or apply heat, a laser, or a beam of special gas to the patches of endometriosis tissue to destroy or remove them.

Adhesions and any ovarian cysts, called endometriomas, which have formed as a result of endometriosis, can also be removed using some of these techniques.

The procedure is carried out under general anaesthetic, so you'll be asleep and will not feel any pain as it's carried out.

Although this kind of surgery can relieve your symptoms and sometimes help improve fertility, problems can recur, especially if some endometriosis tissue is left behind.

Hormone treatment might be used after surgery to help get better, longer lasting results.

Hysterectomy

If keyhole surgery and other treatments have not worked and you do not want to try to get pregnant, removal of the womb (a hysterectomy) might be an option.

A hysterectomy is a major operation that will have a significant impact on your body.

Deciding to have a hysterectomy is a big decision you should discuss with your GP or gynaecologist.

Hysterectomies cannot be reversed and, though unlikely, endometriosis symptoms could return after the operation.

If the ovaries and cervix are left in place, pain from endometriosis is more likely to return.

If your ovaries are removed during a hysterectomy, the possibility of needing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) afterwards should be discussed with you. 

But it's not clear what course of HRT is best for women who have endometriosis.

For example, oestrogen-only HRT may cause your symptoms to return if any endometriosis patches remain after the operation.

This risk is reduced by the use of a combined course of HRT (oestrogen and progesterone). But taking combined HRT is linked to a small increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for you.

Complications of surgery

All types of surgery carry a risk of complications.

If surgery is recommended for you, speak to your surgeon about the possible risks before agreeing to treatment.

Read about the complications of endometriosis for more information about the risks of surgery.

Complementary therapies

There's no evidence that traditional Chinese medicine or other herbal medicines or supplements can help treat endometriosis.

Page last reviewed: 05 September 2022
Next review due: 05 September 2025