Ovarian endometriosis could double the risk of premature birth in women using assisted reproductive technologies. Australian research shows.
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside the uterus. The misplaced tissue commonly grows on the ovaries (ovarian endometriosis), but can also occur on the fallopian tubes or the tissue lining the pelvis (the peritoneum).
It was after a comparative study of more than 6,000 births that researchers determined the risk associated with endometriosis.
But further research was needed to find out the clinical benefit of removing ovarian endometriosis prior to using any assisted reproductive technologies said, Professor David Healy Chairman of the Monash University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health, who led the study.
He also said the gaps in the understanding of the chain of events leading from ovarian endometriosis to premature birth should be addressed.
The earlier endometriosis can be detected, the better. Up to 44 per cent of women show no obvious symptoms of endometriosis, it is pointed out.
The causes of endometriosis are not fully understood and there may be many reasons why it occurs and may become a chronic condition.
Diagnosis of endometriosis is by laparoscopy, an operation performed under general anaesthetic, where a small telescope is inserted into the abdomen through a cut in the belly button. Ovarian endometriosis can be diagnosed via ultrasound.
Treatment would depend on the severity, symptoms and whether pregnancy is desired, and can include medication for pain relief, natural and/or hormone therapies or surgery.
"This research is important for all pregnant women and is the first time that endometriosis has been so clearly associated with premature birth," Professor Healy said.
"Obstetricians will now be able to more readily identify and monitor mothers-to-be who are at increased risk of premature labour and birth."