Can endometriosis cause infertility? Find the answer here, along with info on how infertility is diagnosed and conventional and complementary treatments to help you conceive.
- Research shows that endometriosis can cause infertility.
- There are several theories on why people with endometriosis have difficulty conceiving.
- Diagnosis can take time, and while there are several means of diagnosing endometriosis, only the laparoscopy can provide a definitive diagnosis.
- Surgery and in vitro fertilization are the most effective treatment methods for endometriosis-related infertility.
- Complementary and integrative treatments can support you by relieving symptoms of endometriosis, improving fertility, and reducing stress.
- Sound Cycle’s provider directory can help you find an integrative provider in your area.
Can endometriosis cause infertility? The statistics say yes: 30-50% of women with endometriosis are infertile. Conventional Western therapies work for some people, but others find that they’re not enough, or that they need additional emotional support. Adding complementary or integrative therapies for endometriosis to Western treatment methods can increase the odds of conception and make the journey less stressful.
Why can endometriosis cause infertility?
People with endometriosis have tissue similar to the uterine lining (endometrium) that grows in unusual locations in the body, often causing pelvic pain and irregular or painful menstrual periods. Medical experts don’t know exactly why endometriosis makes getting pregnant harder for some people, but there are several theories:
- Blocked ovaries or tubes. A common symptom, endometrial adhesions (a type of scar tissue) may prevent the ovary’s egg release. Sometimes the fallopian tubes get blocked by the scar tissue and the egg can’t meet the sperm.
- Hormonal imbalances. Women with endometriosis may have hormonal problems that affect menstrual cycle and ovulation. For example, a luteal phase defect may prohibit the implantation of a fertilized egg.
- Weakened immunity. Complex processes accompanying endometriosis may cause inflammation in the female reproductive system. This can result in problems with the egg’s travel from the ovary to the fallopian tube or failed embryo implantation.
- Endometrial dysfunction. Endometriosis may affect biochemical processes in the uterus. Abnormal contractions are another worrying phenomenon. Both can interfere with implantation.
How is endometriosis-related infertility diagnosed?
Some people learn about their endometriosis long before they decide to conceive. Others find out they have endometriosis while getting diagnosed for infertility.
Several procedures can help with an infertility and/or endometriosis diagnosis. Here are a few your provider may recommend, based upon your symptoms.
Menstrual cycle tracking
If you’re early in the process of trying to conceive, try menstrual cycle tracking. It will help you understand your body and menstrual periods better. Learn the basics of basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical fluid observations, and do home ovulation tests. Showing your doctor your charts can point them in the right direction with further tests and treatments.
This standard method can help the doctor notice large patches of endometrial tissue that can get in the way of pregnancy and cause pelvic pain.
Ultrasound or MRI
These imaging techniques can complement the manual exam. Your physician will be able to see smaller patches where endometrial lesions are growing in your body. The location of endometrial lesions can explain why you’re not getting pregnant, for example, if they are on your ovaries or fallopian tubes.
As part of infertility testing, your doctor may order a blood test to check your ovarian reserve and hormones. Blood tests can also be useful to screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can also interfere with conception.
Some people with endometriosis get a prescription for hormonal birth control or medication to diagnose endometriosis. If the pain subsides after a course of hormones, it is an indication that endometriosis may be present. Hormones, often in the form of birth control pills, are one treatment for endometriosis and associated pelvic pain and painful periods.
Before doctors decide to do diagnostic surgery, they may try an X-ray called a hysterosalpingogram. After injecting a special dye, the physician will check for blockages in your reproductive organs.
If your provider suspects endometriosis, they may recommend laparoscopy; it’s the only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis. This minimally invasive surgical procedure can serve two purposes at once; your provider will be able to confirm the presence of endometrial tissue and remove it at the same time.
The male factor
In heterosexual couples who are trying to conceive, both partners should get tested for infertility. If the woman has been diagnosed with endometriosis, it’s a likely culprit, but ruling out male-factor fertility challenges can save the couple time and reduce stress.
Understanding the whole picture will allow doctors to suggest the best treatment with the least delay.
Treatment of infertility due to endometriosis
Your fertility specialist will select the options to help you get pregnant based on your age and endometriosis stage, your partner’s fertility, and other health factors.
Here’s an overview of the current treatment recommendations:
This term means waiting for pregnancy to happen naturally. While endometriosis does reduce your odds of conceiving, it may still happen if you time your lovemaking right and are patient.
Remember that age is an important factor in fertility. If you’re older, this approach may not be a good option for you. Also, consider the stage of your endometriosis. Research suggests that the success of expectant management decreases as severity of disease increases, so people with severe endometriosis don’t benefit from a waiting approach.
The jury is still out on whether laparoscopy or laparotomy (a more invasive surgery) to remove endometrial tissue increases chances of getting pregnant. For now, we know that results depend on the severity of your condition.
For people with mild to moderate endometriosis, laparoscopic removal of lesions may increase pregnancy rates. If you have stage III or IV of the disease and severe symptoms, laparoscopy is better than expectant management to increase your chances of pregnancy.
Assisted reproductive technologies
For people who have severe endometriosis, a mixed approach works best for infertility. First, doctors perform a laparoscopy to remove the lesions or cysts. If the patient doesn’t conceive within a year, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended.
A retrospective study done in 2008 showed a 56.1% pregnancy rate with this integrated approach.
Integrative therapies for infertility
Solving the infertility puzzle takes time and patience. Having endometriosis can make finding the solution even more complicated. While you wait to get pregnant naturally, or when preparing your body for IVF, holistic treatments can help increase your chance of success.
Complementary and integrative medicine offers treatments for your body and mind. It can provide tools to help regulate your cycles, improve hormonal health, and help you keep a positive mindset.
Here is an overview of popular holistic approaches to infertility.
Chinese medicine for infertility
Chinese medicine covers methods from acupuncture to herbal remedies. In many countries in Asia, people treat this approach as their first-line treatment. In the U.S. and other Western countries, there is a growing trend among doctors to get training in Chinese medicine. Holistic fertility clinics offer acupuncture as part of their packages.
In a review of Chinese studies, acupuncture and herbal medicine — used alone or in combination with Western treatments — had a positive effect on pregnancy rates. Acupuncture may also help you reduce stress, which can hamper fertility.
In a 2015 analysis of forty clinical trials, people who used herbal remedies in addition to conventional treatments had more pregnancies than those who only used Western medicine.
People with endometriosis often have difficulty getting pregnant due to physical obstacles in their reproductive system. But for some, hormonal imbalances play an important role in fertility.
The right nutrition can support hormonal health. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you ditch bad eating habits and choose safe and effective supplements. What’s more, a healthy diet can boost male fertility and improve sperm parameters.
Mind-body therapies to help you stay calm
Dealing with endometriosis and infertility can feel like too much at times. Endometriosis can cause a lot of pain and negatively impact your work and relationships. Unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant are a lot to handle, and you need to keep a positive outlook to manage the stress.
Mind-body therapies can give you the psychological support you need. Yoga and meditation can help relieve stress and improve well-being. Behavioral therapies like CBT can teach you to eliminate negative and potentially sabotaging thoughts and behaviors from your outlook.
Seeing a couple’s counselor is not a bad idea, either. Trying for a baby can cause a lot of stress for couples as they transition from romance to sex on a schedule. Talking about your feelings and improving communication will help you get through this trying period.
Western medicine and complementary treatments can work together
Beating the odds of endometriosis and infertility takes resolve and determination. Adding complementary therapies to your conventional treatments may be exactly what you need to feel better and improve your health.
At Sound Cycle, we believe in holistic approaches to healing. We want to support you in your search for the best integrative providers for your infertility concerns.
Visit our provider directory to find practitioners in your area today.