New Australian research shows that having ovarian endometriosis doubles the risk of premature birth in women using assisted reproductive technologies.
Professor David Healy Chairman of the Monash University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health led a comparative study of more than 6,000 births.
"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."
Endometriosis affects up to one in 10 women of childbearing age. It 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).
Professor Healy said further research was needed to determine the clinical benefit of removing ovarian endometriosis prior to using any assisted reproductive technologies and to address the gaps in the understanding of the chain of events leading from ovarian endometriosis to premature birth.
"The earlier endometriosis can be detected the better. Especially as up to 44 per cent of women show no obvious symptoms of endometriosis," Professor Healy said.
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.
(Source: Monash University: March 2009.)