Any type of medical diagnosis, including endometriosis, can create a lot of fear and uncertainty, but understanding your options for treating it is empowering. Easing your mind starts with learning more. It’s believed that at least 11 percent of women in the United States are suffering from this disorder, so it’s important to know what it is and what you can do about it.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about endometriosis tissue, health risks associated with the condition, what it is, and several available options for treating endometriosis.
What is Endometriosis?
The endometrium is a tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. In women with endometriosis, tissue like this starts to grow outside the uterus, often spreading to the ovaries and fallopian tubes. It behaves like endometrial tissue in that it breaks down and bleeds, but that blood has nowhere to go. Instead, it stays trapped inside your body and irritates neighboring tissue, often causing severe pelvic pain as scar tissue and adhesions starts to develop.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Severe pain during periods
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain during bowel movements or even urination
- Excessive menstrual blood
- Fertility issues
- Weight issues
It’s important to note that while weight gain is often associated with endometriosis, there’s no research that directly links them. It may instead be one of the side effects of hormonal imbalance or specific medications.
In addition to being painful, the condition can make it difficult — though not impossible — to become pregnant. You should talk to your doctor if you experience any endometriosis symptoms, are concerned about fertility, or have had trouble conceiving.
How to Treat Endometriosis
The process of diagnosing and treating endometriosis often involves your doctor doing a pelvic exam, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, or even a laparoscopy. There is no cure for treating endometriosis, although some women may naturally experience reduced symptoms after they reach menopause.
In the meantime, treatments focus on managing pain and fertility concerns. There are a number of options, ranging from dietary changes to hormone therapies to surgery to remove the reproductive organs. Your doctor may recommend a multi-faceted approach, including medical and natural treatments such as the following.
1. Hormone Treatments
There are several different hormone therapies that may be used for treating endometriosis. Birth control pills can help regulate the production of endometrial tissue and, in some cases, reduce pain. Aromatase inhibitors reduce estrogen, and may be prescribed in conjunction with hormonal contraceptive drugs or progestin therapy.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists and antagonists lower the hormone estrogen and stop menstruation. Because it’s an induced menopause, GnRH analogues are typically accompanied by menopausal symptoms. You will not be able to get pregnant while this type of hormone therapy, but fertility may return when you stop taking those medications.
Heating pads and warm baths can reduce cramping and pain. While it’s not a long-term solution for endometriosis, heat can help you ease the discomfort in your body on the most challenging days in conjunction with other treatment methods.
3. Pain Medication
Endometriosis pain can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or anything you would normally take to relieve period cramps. You may also supplement that or experiment with plants and essential oils, such as lavender, that have been shown to reduce the discomforts associated with your menstrual cycle.
4. Nutrition and Dietary Changes
As part of your long-term treatment for endometriosis, certain nutritional and dietary changes may help reduce pain and inflammation. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods while increasing your intake of broccoli, leafy greens, ginger, salmon, celery, and bone broth. Try celery, kale, or ginger juice to help you include more of those in your diet.
Though more research may be needed, several herbs and spices have shown promising results when used for endometriosis pain. These include chamomile, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and ashwagandha, among others.
5. Stress Reduction
High levels of stress contribute to various types of disease, and can make symptoms more severe. Lowering your stress is not only a treatment of endometriosis, it can reduce your risk of a variety of physical and mental health concerns, and it may help you improve fertility and pregnancy rates.
Establish a daily morning routine, exercise, eat well, take time for yourself, spend time in nature, and practice other stress-relieving techniques to find out what works best for you. There are no negative side effects to these practices, and they promote a higher quality of life even if they result in no noticeable change in your symptoms.
6. Surgery as long-term treatment
If you experience endometriosis-related pain or are trying to get pregnant, some women may benefit from surgery to remove the endometriosis patches. This can typically be done with minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery. Surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus should be considered a last resort, however, as it can have long-term side effects, particularly for women under the age of 35.
Most women utilize a variety of treatments for endometriosis. Discuss a treatment plan with your doctor to decide what’s right for you.
Women with Endometriosis: The Best Time to Contact a Professional
Many women may attempt to manage symptoms on their own before visiting a doctor, but it’s important to get more health information from a professional to ensure you’re taking the right approach — and to rule out other causes for your symptoms.
See your doctor if your symptoms are disrupting your life or increasing your stress levels, including some of the following results:
- You’re avoiding sex.
- You’re missing work or other activities because the discomfort is too great.
- You regularly experience several days of pain during your period.
- You’re constantly worried about your symptoms and what they mean.
- You’re having trouble getting pregnant.
If you’ve been working with your health care provider and you’ve tried a number of medications or hormonal therapies without success, you have other options to explore before settling on surgery. A naturopathic physician can help you explore herbs, supplements, stress reduction, and alternative therapies like acupuncture to manage symptoms and improve fertility.
Work with a Holistic Partner You Can Trust
There’s no one way for treating endometriosis that will work for all women. A naturopathic treatment approach for any disease or disorder considers the individual and your unique lifestyle to outline a treatment plan that works for you. Contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today to speak with an expert about endometriosis, alternative treatment options, and a holistic approach to healthcare for women.