Endometriosis, or “endo,“ is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. Endo can cause pelvic pain, swelling, and scarring of the pelvic organs. If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, exploring all-natural treatment options is the best way to find relief from the symptoms of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is characterized by the formation of endometrial-like tissue outside the womb. Endometriosis results in inflammation, as the tissue responds to fluctuations in estrogen, a female hormone, during the menstrual cycle.
Endometriosis occurs in the pelvic cavity and can attach to female reproductive organs including but not limited to the fallopian tubes, uterosacral ligaments, and the peritoneum. According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, endometriosis can also occur in any of the spaces between the bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. In some cases, endo may occur in other parts of the body, including the bowel, intestines, appendix, or rectum.
Endometriosis responds to changes in estrogen, which can cause implants to grow and bleed during a woman’s menstrual cycle. The surrounding tissue can become irritated, leading to inflammation and swelling. The breakdown of endometrial-like tissue during menstruation can also cause scar tissue, called adhesions. In some cases, adhesions cause the pelvic organs to fuse together, causing painful inflammation and scarring, especially during menstruation.
The only way to provide a guaranteed diagnosis of endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. A diagnostic laparoscopy involves the use of a laparoscope, or thin viewing tube, to view a woman’s reproductive organs. The tube is passed through a small incision in the abdominal cavity.
Doctors often recommend a laparoscopy to find the cause of pelvic pain, examine endometrial tissue or scar tissue in the pelvic area, confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, or look for a blockage of the fallopian tubes or other causes of infertility.
Sometimes, surgeons will perform a minor surgical procedure to remove a small amount of tissue during a laparoscopy, called a biopsy. Because there are no lab tests for endometriosis, doctors cannot test the blood or urine of patients or administer an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis.
Due to a lack of knowledge among the general public and health care providers in the United States, it takes an average of 10 years from the onset of symptoms of endometriosis to receive an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are multiple possible explanations. According to Sampson’s theory, retrograde menstruation (the backward flow of menstrual debris) may play a part in endometriosis.
Meyer’s theory suggests that the development of endometriosis may occur during fetal development and the condition may be activated at puberty when estrogen levels increase and the menstrual cycle begins. Other researchers believe that the regeneration of the endometrium during the menstrual cycle may play a role in the development of endometriosis. The range of stem cells to other parts of the body may then lead to the differentiation of endometrial cells, resulting in endometriosis.
The role that genetics plays in the etiology of endo is a popular subject of debate. In the context of endometriosis, genetics has been studied through changes in gene expression. Genetic factors may also play a role in determining whether an individual has a higher risk of developing endometriosis.
The immune system and inflammatory response can also contribute to endo, but more research is needed to understand the role that these mechanisms play in the cause of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a serious women’s health problem and primarily affects women in their reproductive years. Endometriosis can also affect premenopausal women and younger women, starting at the onset of their first menstrual cycle.
The risk factors of endo are unknown. Although approximately one in 10 women is affected by endo in the United States, many remain undiagnosed. Endo affects women equally across socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds. If you’re concerned about your risk of endometriosis, talk to your health care provider.
Endometriosis pain is commonly associated with long menstrual cycles, bowel and urinary disorders, nausea, infertility, pain during sexual intercourse, chronic fatigue, and painful cramps. The symptoms of endometriosis typically become more severe during a woman’s menstrual period.
The treatment of endometriosis depends on the level of pain, symptoms, and whether the patient wants to maintain fertility. Endometriosis treatment may involve pain medication, therapy, surgery, or a combination of different treatments. For individuals with endo looking for additional treatment options, here are some home remedies that can provide relief from the symptoms of endometriosis.
Placing a heating pad or hot water bottle on the lower abdomen and taking a warm bath can relax the pelvic area and reduce pelvic pain. Heat is also a common treatment for pain during the menstrual period and can offer immediate relief. According to a 2001 study, heating pads were as effective as using ibuprofen for pain relief among 81 women with painful menstrual periods.
Over-the-counter pain medications, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen, help fight inflammation and swelling. Taking steps to reduce inflammation can also help relieve cramping and chronic pelvic pain.
Making dietary changes can help reduce the symptoms of endo, but more research is needed to determine the most effective dietary changes. Reducing your consumption of gluten, red meat, processed foods, and caffeine and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can improve your overall health and reduce chronic pelvic pain associated with endo.
During menstruation, getting enough rest is important. If you’re experiencing severe pain, don’t be afraid to call in sick at work or cancel plans with friends. To relieve cramping while laying down, lay on the side with your knees pulled up to your chest.
Although few researchers have studied the effectiveness of herbal supplements, herbs can help individuals with endo reduce symptoms. Before taking herbal supplements, speak to your health care provider or gynecologist. It’s important to remember that the quality, dose, and purity of herbal supplements are not monitored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If you’re experiencing severe endometriosis, talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Prescription pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal medications, including oral contraceptive pills, hormone therapy medications, progestin-only medications, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, can also help improve the symptoms of endometriosis. Hormonal medications can slow the growth of endometrial tissue and prevent the formation of new adhesions. To find out more information about prescription pain medications, talk to your health care provider.
Conservative surgery can also reduce severe pain and other symptoms of endometriosis. During a deep-excision, the entire lesion, including the endometrial tissue beneath the surface is removed from the pelvic cavity. Although endo is identified above the surface of the tissue, the majority of the endometrial implant is found below the tissue. Laparoscopic deep-excision surgery is considered the gold standard for endometriosis surgical treatment.
During a cold-excision, surgeons use techniques that do not involve heat or electricity to remove endometriosis lesions. However, cold-excision surgery creates a higher risk of not fully removing endometriosis lesions and may damage surrounding tissue in the pelvic cavity. Other types of surgery typically involve cauterization or ablation of endometriosis growths.
If endometriosis pain is severe and does not subside after treatment, your doctor may recommend a hysterectomy as a “last resort“ option. A hysterectomy may include or exclude the ovaries and cervix depending on the parts of the body that endometriosis has affected at the time of surgery. Endometrial growths are less likely to occur after the ovaries are removed during a hysterectomy.
A hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis. If your surgeon removes your uterus and excises the remaining lesions, you may still experience chronic pelvic pain. Additionally, if you take hormone replacement therapy or reproductive medicine after your ovaries are removed, the symptoms of endometriosis may worsen.
While the above treatment options may help reduce chronic pelvic pain for some women, every individual with endometriosis will benefit differently from each treatment. If you’ve been diagnosed with endo, it’s important to trust your judgment, work with your healthcare provider, and find the treatment options that work best for you.