While anyone can experience a reproductive condition, understanding endometriosis and endometriosis causes can improve your quality of life and those of diagnosed loved ones. So what is it, and how does it affect you personally as a woman? Some facts to keep in mind:
- Endometriosis is a condition in which the uterus’s inner lining — the part that sheds each month with your menstrual cycle called the “endometrium” — grows outside the uterus.
- These growths are called “implants.”
- They show up in the wrong places, such as on the outer uterus, your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the protective tissue around the uterus,.
- They aren’t limited to your reproductive organs, though: Endometrial tissue can also be found elsewhere in the body, like the bladder, bowel, and occasionally, endometrial cells appear on the brain, skin, or lungs.
- According to data collected from the Office on Women’s Health, more than 6.5 million women in the United States have been diagnosed with this uterus condition.
Aside from retrograde menstruation cases, in which menstrual blood flows backward into the pelvic cavity, the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. Here’s what to be aware of about this condition, including its symptoms and treatments.
1. Who is at risk for endometriosis and what are the contributing factors?
Endometriosis most commonly happens to menstruating women in their 30s and 40s. Other aspects might contribute to the risk of developing it, including:
- Never giving birth
- Cycles that are longer than seven days
- Having a close family member who’s diagnosed with it
- Blocked blood flow from the womb due to a health condition
- If your cycle is fewer than 27 days.
You can’t change your age or cycle length, but you can naturally lower your risk of developing endometriosis. A few ways include eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables, bone broth, blueberries, and salmon, plus drinking ginger tea and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption.
2. What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Symptoms of endometriosis often begin with severe pelvic pain in your pelvis, especially while shedding menstrual blood. This is the most common. Others signs of endometriosis include:
- Discomfort during your period that is often worse than usual
- Heavy bleeding
- Infertility or trouble getting pregnant
- Pain during sex
- Painful urination or bowel movements
Those who suffer from any of these symptoms of endometriosis can naturally relieve them in many ways, including using appropriate essential oils. A few that may help are lavender, rosemary, rose, and turmeric, although you can see a holistic doctor for a complete list. Mix the oils you choose into an almond oil base and rub it into your abdomen.
You can also do an anti-inflammatory cleanse before menstruating. Less inflammation equals less pelvic pain during your period!
3. What happens if endometriosis is left untreated?
Women with endometriosis have endometrial tissue growing in places where it shouldn’t, which can result in several health complications if left untreated. Although uncommon, these issues can sometimes even be fatal. These include obstruction of the small bowel and ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy outside the womb, such as inside a fallopian tube.
If you need surgery due to untreated endometriosis, holistic remedies during your recovery can help speed the healing process and bring you relief. Juicing infuses you with vitamins and minerals that are easy to absorb, for example. Be sure to choose anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, ginger, green apples, lemons, cucumbers, and celery.
4. What is an endometriosis flare-up?
Sometimes endometriosis exhibits few or no symptoms. Although the intensity is unique to each woman, a flare-up is when endometriosis suddenly makes itself known. This usually occurs by severe abdominal pain and other symptoms, such as hot flashes, sweating, nausea, or even a low-grade fever. Some women have described related pain as debilitating.
Natural treatments for endometriosis flare-ups include pelvic massage, applying a heating pad or hot water bottle, and herbal supplements such as chamomile. You might also consider getting nutritional counseling to determine if food sensitivity is causing the flare-ups.
5. Is there a cure for endometriosis?
There isn’t a cure, but several conventional treatment options are available to manage the discomfort and keep the endometriosis from causing health problems or spreading. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (like Advil) or naproxen sodium (such as Aleve), are the most commonly prescribed pain medication for the treatment of endometriosis. A woman can also opt for surgery to remove any endometrial tissue implants found outside of the uterus. Of course, both medications and surgery carry risks.
Those who opt for a non-surgical route should consider consulting a naturopathic physician who can help formulate a treatment plan to alleviate symptoms and keep them under control. This might include the use of botanical medicine and supplementation with essential fatty acids (like Omega 3), diindolylmethane (also called “DIM,” and is a type of sulfur found only in plants), and amino acids.
6. What non-invasive treatment options can reduce endometriosis pain?
A new treatment may be available through an oral medication called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) that has only been available since 2018, and it makes the body think it’s undergoing menopause. There may be downsides, however, as releasing hormone GnRH agonists may also cause bone loss, racing heart, skin rashes, mood swings, and other side effects. Your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy, as some women benefit from birth control pills.
Naturopathic treatments are another option, and unlike medications or surgery, they produce no side effects. By treating the whole patient instead of only one part or system, naturopathic physicians offer safe endometriosis remedies for both short-term and long-term relief.
7. When should I see a doctor for endometriosis?
There are many ways you’ll know that it’s time to see your physician, but here are a few of the most common:
- If you’re experiencing severe pelvic pain during your period, sex, or when using the toilet, or if the pain in this area becomes chronic
- If you’ve noticed stomach trouble, constipation, and bloating (especially during menstruation)
- If you’re having fertility problems or difficulty getting pregnant, or are spotting between period cycles
Some holistic doctors also specialize in women’s health. When you take a natural treatment route for your endometriosis, you’ll gain insight into parts of your lifestyle, health, and body as a whole that you never realized played a role in your condition.
8. What is laparoscopy for endometriosis?
A laparoscopy is a type of minimally-invasive surgery that allows a doctor to look inside the abdominal wall and check for the presence of endometriosis. This is done through a small incision, and he or she will insert an instrument with a light called a laparoscope. If endometriosis implants (growths) or scar tissue are found on ovaries and fallopian tubes or other organs, your doctor will remove them. Just because your surgeon can’t see evidence of endometriosis doesn’t mean you don’t have it, though: Cells and tissue growth can be tiny.
Laparoscopy is sometimes an effective treatment to diagnose endometriosis, help ease symptoms like severe pain during menstrual periods, and help women trying to get pregnant. Natural medicine can assist with the process both before and after surgery. Vitamin C reduces inflammation, vitamin E reduces scar tissue after the procedure, vitamin A supports healing, and zinc boosts your immune system.
9. What is endometriosis surgery?
Your health care provider may recommend other surgeries that are sometimes used when symptoms don’t respond to other treatments.
The first is a laparotomy, which is done through a large belly incision in which the affected tissue is removed through endometriosis excision. This removal process preserves reproductive organs, and it’s recommended in cases of Stage IV endometriosis, the most severe. By this time, the endometriosis has developed into large cysts on one or both ovaries, regions of scar tissue, and thin strips of lesions that cause organs to stick together. You’ll need to remain at the hospital for one night or longer. In about 10% of patients, endometriosis may reoccur.
Hysterectomy and/or oophorectomy
The second type of procedure is a hysterectomy, which removes the uterus. Sometimes ovaries containing scar tissue are removed as well in a procedure known as an oophorectomy. Hysterectomies and oophorectomies are only done in women with endometriosis who don’t plan on having children.
If you’ve had an oophorectomy, your body will go into menopause suddenly, regardless of age. Natural therapies can relieve hot flashes and other symptoms and include bioidentical hormone replacement, primrose oil, black cohosh, acupuncture, and magnesium supplements.
Natural Treatments for Endometriosis
Just because there is no cure for endometriosis doesn’t mean you have to live your life in pain! Through a holistic approach to women’s healthcare, you can boost your immune system, correct hormonal imbalances, and reduce inflammation and severe pain without undergoing surgery or using anti-inflammatory drugs. Contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today to speak with an expert about endometriosis, other health issues that impact women, naturopathic remedies, and to get all your questions answered.