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Laparoscopy is the most common procedure used to diagnose and remove mild to moderate endometriosis. Instead of using a large abdominal incision, the surgeon inserts a lighted viewing instrument called a laparoscope through a small incision. If the surgeon needs better access, he or she makes one or two more small incisions for inserting other surgical instruments.
If your doctor recommends a laparoscopy, it will be to:
You will be advised not to eat or drink for at least 8 hours before a laparoscopy. Laparoscopy is usually done under general anesthesia, although you can stay awake if you have local or spinal anesthetic. A gynecologist or surgeon performs the procedure.
For a laparoscopy, the abdomen is inflated with gas (carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide). The gas, which is injected with a needle, pushes the abdominal wall away from the organs so that the surgeon can see them clearly. The surgeon then inserts a laparoscope through a small incision and examines the internal organs. Additional incisions may be used to insert instruments to move internal organs and structures for better viewing. The procedure usually takes 30 to 45 minutes.
If endometriosis or scar tissue needs to be removed, your surgeon will use one of various techniques, including cutting and removing tissue (excision) or destroying it with a laser beam or electric current (electrocautery).
After the procedure, the surgeon closes the abdominal incisions with a few stitches. Usually there is little or no scarring.
Laparoscopy is usually done at an outpatient facility. Sometimes a surgery requires a hospital stay of 1 day. You will likely be able to return to your normal activities in 1 week, maybe longer.
Laparoscopy is used to examine the pelvic organs and to remove implants and scar tissue. This procedure is typically used for checking and treating:
Directly viewing the pelvic organs is the only way to confirm whether you have endometriosis. But this is not always needed. For suspected endometriosis, hormone therapy is often prescribed.
As with hormone therapy, surgery relieves endometriosis pain for most women. But it does not guarantee long-lasting results. Some studies have shown:
Some studies suggest that using hormone therapy after surgery can make the pain-free period longer by preventing the growth of new or returning endometriosis.3
If infertility is your primary concern, your doctor will probably use laparoscopy to look for and remove signs of endometriosis.
After laparoscopy, your next steps depend on how severe your endometriosis is and your age. If you are older than 35, egg quality declines and miscarriage risk increases with each passing year. In that case, your doctor may recommend infertility treatment, such as fertility drugs, insemination, or in vitro fertilization. If you are younger, consider trying to conceive without infertility treatment.
There are various ways of surgically treating an endometrioma, including draining it, cutting out part of it, or removing it completely (cystectomy). Any of these treatments brings pain relief for most women but not all. Cystectomy is most likely to relieve pain for a longer time, prevent an endometrioma from growing back, and prevent the need for another surgery.1
Complications from the surgery are rare but include:
The benefits of laparoscopic surgery compared with open abdominal surgery include less tissue trauma and scarring and smaller incisions along with being able to have an outpatient procedure or a shorter hospital stay and a shorter recovery time.
The skill of the surgeon is critical when surgery is used to treat endometriosis that is causing infertility. The use of a laparoscope, lasers, and some of the operative procedures require additional training for a surgeon. Doctors report varying pregnancy rates after endometriosis surgery.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), an assisted reproductive technology, is an alternative to surgery to correct infertility caused by endometriosis.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Management of endometriosis. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 114. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(1): 225–236.
- Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Endometriosis. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1221–1248. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Ferrrero S, et al. (2010). Endometriosis, search date December 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (2012). Endometriosis and infertility: A committee opinion. Fertility and Sterility, 98(3): 591–598.
Last Revised: June 7, 2013
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