Here’s a fact that may surprise you: endometriosis is the top cause of unexplained infertility in women. According to Dr. Hugh Taylor, president elect of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “More than half of unexplained infertility is due to endometriosis.” Women with infertility are 6 to 8 times more likely to have endometriosis than other women—but they are frequently unaware they have the disease.
While endometriosis often causes pelvic pain, many women experience no symptoms, a phenomenon known as “silent endometriosis.” This partly explains why the average time to diagnosis is an astonishing 10 years in the United States. And when endometriosis remains undiagnosed and untreated for such a lengthy period, it can have devastating consequences.
Many of the 7.3 million American women ages 15 to 44 who have received fertility treatments turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF), a process that can be painful, expensive, and time-consuming. But the longer a woman waits to get diagnosed and treated, the harder it may be to become pregnant, even with the assistance of IVF.
According to research, women who have endometriosis and who are undergoing IVF experience a nearly 50% lower pregnancy rate than do women who are receiving IVF for other reasons. For women with later-stage endometriosis, the rates of pregnancy are even worse.
These figures aren’t just numbers. To the millions of women undergoing IVF each year, they can represent deeply painful experiences.
But there’s hope. Diagnosing and treating endometriosis prior to IVF can significantly improve fertility outcomes. Researchers have found that in couples with early-stage endometriosis and no other infertility factors (such as age or sperm issues), treatment improves chances of getting pregnant. These positive outcomes apply to late-stage disease, too: a 2015 study found that when women with severe endometriosis underwent surgery to remove it, their likelihood of getting pregnant improved.
That’s why it’s so important to get tested for endometriosis. According to Dr. David Adamson, reproductive endocrinologist and former president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine,
“If you are trying to get pregnant, the earlier the diagnosis and treatment [of endometriosis], the better, as the condition can grow worse over time. Without treatment, it is very difficult for couples to get pregnant.”
When women can receive timely diagnoses, they can pursue the treatment they need. DotLab is developing DotEndo, the world’s first non-invasive test for endometriosis. DotEndo identifies microRNA biomarkers unique to the disease.
When women can access the information they need about their own hormonal health, it can change the trajectory of their—and their families’—lives.
Photo credit: Sai De Silva