A quick internet search will show you that doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes endometriosis, but throughout history there have been a number of theories. I’d like to start by saying that some of the theories I’ll be discussing are historical myths, and others are from the current school of thought.
The first myth I’ll be looking into is the ‘career women’ cause, this is where the woman themselves is blamed for the appearance of endo because they have focused on their career and delayed having children. The delay of conceiving was previously thought to have been the cause of endometriosis, and this is also likely where the idea that pregnancy cures endometriosis came from. Pregnancy is now thought to suppress endometriosis, and many women find that the symptoms can become more manageable after having children (which is very handy, seeing as you are now having to run around after a tiny human), but this does not happen in all cases, and does not completely eradicate the symptoms.
Both the use of tampons, and having an STD have also been blamed for causing endometriosis. There are two ways that tampons are thought to have caused endometriosis – the first is that wearing a tampon causes retrograde menstruation (more on this later), but there is no evidence to support this. Toxins that can be present in tampons were also thought to be a cause, or risk factor, for endometriosis. The toxins appear in the tampons after the bleaching process that they undergo. Studies have been conducted on tampons however, and it was found that the level of toxins was below the detection limit, and so is no longer thought to be a contributing factor. Now on to STDs, I’ve not seen anything that really backs this theory up, or suggests where it may have come from. An article I read by Endo What suggests that the link between endo and STDs could be from the confusion between endometriosis and endometritis (skim read this bit and you probably wouldn’t have been able to see the difference between the two words). Endometritis is an infection of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) and can be caused by chlamydia, gonorrhoea, tuberculosis and other infections. Given how similar these two words sound, it is hardly surprising that people have previously suggested a link between endometriosis and STDs, rest assured this is not the case.
Genetic predisposition is one of the causes I’ll be discussing that it more science than myth. This is where scientists believe there is something in your genetics that makes you susceptible to having endometriosis. It has also been found that if one of your relatives has endometriosis, you have a higher chance of also having it. No single gene has been found to be responsible for endometriosis though, although more research is being conducted to try and find links.
Retrograde menstruation was one of the first theories I came across while researching endometriosis for the first time many years ago. This is where part of your period is thought to flow backwards, out through fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. This is when the tissue would implant itself onto organs and grows, causing endometriosis. There are cases where endometriosis has presented after a hysterectomy, which is not explained by this theory, so it could be a trigger factor for some, or a contributing factor, but not the only cause. Scientists have suggested that most women will experience some form of retrograde menstruation, but their bodies are able to deal with this, clear the tissue and it does not deposit on the organs. It is yet to be explained why if most women experience retrograde menstruation, only 10% have endometriosis.
Your immune system has also been thought to play a role in the development of endo. It is thought that for some women, their immune system is not capable of fighting off endometriosis. If you combine this with the retrograde menstruation paragraph above, this is a potential theory as to why only 10% of women get endo, with the rate of retrograde menstruation thought to be much higher. Women with endometriosis appear to have a reduced immunity against other conditions. There is not yet a conclusion as to whether this is a cause or as a result of endometriosis.
There are many, many, other theories as to the causes of endometriosis, some are no more than myths whereas other have more of a scientific basis. These causes include environmental causes, psychological trauma, metaplasia, lymphatic or circulatory spread. I won’t be covering these in this post, but if you would like to see a blog on these then let me know either with a comment or by messaging me!