Endometriosis is a common ailment for women, yet not everyone talks about it. Symptoms often arise during a woman’s period; in fact, some people may confuse symptoms of endometriosis with period pain. Therefore, it’s important that women educate themselves about endometriosis and learn what they can do to help combat the symptoms.
Endometriosis—What Is It?
Endometriosis is a condition where endometrium, the tissue that lines a woman’s uterus, also grows outside the uterus. Normally this growth (called implants) happens on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the outer wall of the uterus, but it can also happen on the intestines and other parts of her belly and beyond. (1)
The endometrium that lines the uterus thickens every month in preparation for an egg. If an egg is fertilized, it attaches to the endometrium, where it grows. If an egg is not fertilized, the endometrium breaks down and the body sheds it with blood during the period.
The implants that grow outside the uterus act in the same way—thickening every month in preparation for an egg and then breaking down. The problem is that as they are outside the uterus, it’s hard for the body to get rid of the tissue, and sometimes it leads to infection. Fluid-filled cysts can also be formed if it happens in the ovaries. This can be painful and cause scar tissue, which in turn can make it hard to become pregnant. It can also lead to organs sticking together when abnormal bands of fibrous tissue are formed. (1) (2)
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Sometimes women who suffer from endometriosis are unaware of it, as they have no symptoms. However, for some women, it can cause: (1) (2) (3)
- heavy bleeding during menstruation and bleeding in between periods
- pain during menstruation—sometimes for several days before and after the period
- pain when urinating or with bowel movements
- pain during or after sex
- vaginal bleeding during sex
- infertility (there is an effective treatment for this)
- lower back pain
- more unusual symptoms, including diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, constipation, blood in the urine, and nausea
The only way to know if you have endometriosis is to see a gynecologist for an examination. If you have severe symptoms or blood in the urine, you should always see a doctor. Having regular sexual health check-ups is recommended anyway, and it can help prevent future problems.
Causes of Endometriosis
The exact cause(s) of endometriosis is not known. However, it’s believed that it could be caused by the following: (1) (2) (3)
- surgical scars from a C-section or hysterectomy—endometrial cells can attach themselves to the scars
- retrograde menstruation—when the blood flows up instead of out during menstruation and the endometrial cells stick to other organs, where they then grow
- embryonic cell transformation—where hormones transform new cells into endometrial cells during puberty
- transformation of peritoneal cells—where the cells that line the inside of your belly transform into endometrial cells due to hormone or immune factors
- endometrial cell transport—where endometrial cells get transported through blood or tissue fluid to other parts of the body, where they start to grow
- immune system disorder—the body fails to recognize and destroy endometrial cells that grow in places they shouldn’t
- genetics—the condition may be passed down in families
Generally, there are two roads of treatment: hormone therapy and surgery.
If your symptoms aren’t too adverse and you don’t currently wish to become pregnant, then taking a birth control pill (or any form of birth control that involves hormones) might be all you need. Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can also be used to control the pain. Sometimes you need to start taking them a day or two before you expect your period in order to get the full benefit.
If birth control hormones and NSAIDs don’t work, you can try a stronger hormone therapy.
If hormone therapy doesn’t work, or if the growths are affecting other organs or are affecting your chances of becoming pregnant, then surgery may be necessary. Usually, very small incisions are made, and the results reduce the pain and improve fertility.
In very severe cases, the ovaries and uterus can be removed, which brings on menopause. If you are already close to menopause, you may not need surgery. Symptoms will disappear with menopause unless the symptoms are caused by scar tissue or organs banding together.
It’s also important that you seek help if you feel depressed due to the symptoms caused by endometriosis. Depression can be a side effect, especially if you feel there is no treatment method you want to try or that would work for you. As you will find below, there are also several alternative treatment methods that may help relieve you of your symptoms.
Alternative Treatment Methods
There are several alternative treatment methods for endometriosis. Before you decide to treat yourself, however, it’s important that you consult a medical doctor. Firstly, you need to get diagnosed; secondly, you need to find out that your chosen treatment plan doesn’t have any negative side effects on your overall health.
Pycnogenol, or French maritime pine bark extract, has shown promise in one study as an alternative treatment for endometriosis. It was used instead of hormones. (5)
To simply manage the pain, you can try applying warmth to the affected areas. For example, you could use a hot water bottle or a heated wheat bag. (1) (4)
Exercise may also help reduce pain, as it increases blood flow and endorphins, which have both been known to diminish pain. (1)
Using a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) machine can also help improve symptoms. There have been specific TENS machines developed for period pains. (4)
Another thing to try is biofeedback and relaxation techniques. If you practice tensing and then relaxing your body step-by-step, starting with your toes and working your way up, you may learn to relax it even when in pain. This, in turn, can help you relax during muscle contractions that are causing the pain.
Acupuncture has also shown promise in a study as a means of pain reduction. (5)
If the pain is due to inflammation, eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and taking natural supplements such as ginger and turmeric to combat the inflammation may prove beneficial. Herbalists also recommend an array of different herbs. If suffering from endometriosis, it’s important that you see a qualified herbalist who takes your overall health into account, as various herbs can interact with medication and affect other areas. (5) (6)
While there may not be a cure for endometriosis, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the symptoms and possibly even rid yourself of them entirely.