Understanding Endometriosis – Endometriosis Awareness Month

Understanding Endometriosis – Endometriosis Awareness Month

Did you know that March is endometriosis awareness month? It affects approximately 1 out of 10 women.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis (en-doe-me-tree-O-sis) is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs.

Symptoms

The primary symptom of endometriosis is pelvic pain – often severe –  especially during your menstrual period.  Fertility problems also may develop.  Symptoms include:

  • Painful periods
  • Pelvic pain throughout the month, in-between periods
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Menstrual blood that is dark red in color
  • Numerous large clots in the menstrual blood
  • Infertility

Other symptoms may include fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and nausea, especially during menstrual periods. 

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

The pain and  heavy bleeding associated with endometriosis are obvious to any woman. An official diagnosis of endometriosis can only be made with a laparoscopy, a procedure that takes images inside the abdomen.  This provides information about the location, extent and size of the endometriosis in order to help determine the best treatment options.

At the time of the laparoscopy it is often possible to surgically remove some of the endometriosis, thus making it both a diagnostic and a treatment procedure.

What are treatment options?

Fortunately, effective treatments are available for endometriosis. Treatment options need to be assessed on an individual basis, and generally one starts with the less invasive approaches first.  If a woman is actively trying to conceive, some of the hormonal methods of treatment will be inappropriate.  (The good news is that pregnancy works very well to manage endometriosis.) Treatments can be divided into two categories – conventional medicine and holistic medicine. 

Conventional medicine:

  • Pain medication
  • Hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills and the Mirena iud
  • Surgery

Holistic medicine:

  • Acupunctureacupuncture works to circulate and move the blood. In Chinese medicine, endometriosis is thought of as blood stagnation, which contributes to heavy bleeding, dark red menstrual blood, clots, and severe pain.  Healthy blood flow is essential for a healthy reproductive system, and fertility.
  • Diet– there are many ways in which diet can either aggravate endometriosis or be useful in managing it.
    • Cold foods– icy beverages, ice cream, even lots of raw foods – introduce cold into the body, which slows down the circulation of blood. Have you ever noticed your menstrual cramps getting worse if you eat ice cream? Conversely, how many women report that heat makes their cramps feel better?  Eating warm foods helps to reduce the symptoms of endometriosis.
    • Inflammatory foods– endometriosis has an inflammatory component, which are the biochemical pathways that lead to pain. Many foods are by their nature inflammatory, even if you do not have a specific allergy to them.  Gluten is probably the most inflammatory, with dairy being a close second.  Many women find that eliminating these foods leads to a huge improvement in their symptoms.
    • Blood sugars – unstable blood sugars, whether too high or too low, will cause a significant disruption in hormones, which in turn can aggravate endometriosis. Eating a balanced diet – with equal number of calories coming from protein, fats, and carbs – can go a long way in normalizing hormones and managing endometriosis.
  • Vitamins and supplements– certain vitamins and supplements can help treat endometriosis:
    • Fish oil– known for its anti-inflammatory properties, fish oil can be a valuable supplement to treat the pain associated with inflammation.Fish oil will also contribute to improved blood circulation.  When taking a fish oil, it is essential to choose a product that guarantees both its purity and potency.
    • Turmeric, aka curcumin– used for centuries, this is both a natural anti-inflammatory and a blood mover. It is an excellent supplement to take when managing a painful condition such as endometriosis
    • Folic acid– folic acid is needed to insure proper blood flow, and folic acid deficiency may contribute to blood clotting.
  • Herbs– Chinese medicine has used herbs for centuries to safely and effectively treat the symptoms associated with endometriosis, namely the pain and excessively heavy bleeding.

Quality of life and endometriosis – the combination of severe pain and excessively heavy bleeding can be debilitating to women, keeping them from engaging in their normal daily activities.  This isn’t normal, and the good news is that endometriosis can be effective managed, returning women to a higher quality of life.

Fertility and endometriosis – the greatest impact endometriosis has on one’s fertility is by choking off the blood flow into the ovaries.  This can lead to a premature aging of the ovaries and make it difficult for them to perform their function of producing high quality eggs.

Endometriosis may also cause blocked fallopian tubes, which keeps the egg and the sperm from getting together.  Depending on the nature and extent of the endometriosis, several treatment options may be useful. For example, surgery can remove much of the endometrial tissue on the ovaries.  Acupuncture can help restore good blood flow to bring more blood to the ovarian tissue and improve egg production.  Nutritional support can help limit the return of the endometriosis.

Treatment for endometriosis should be assessed on an individual basis.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have questions about endometriosis, call 510-595-1175 or visit our website to learn more about how we can help!

Leslie Oldershaw, L.Ac.
Medical director
Fertility Acupuncturist East Bay
510-595-1175
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