Endometriosis is a gynecological condition that is incurable but manageable. It is when the endometrial implants, comprised of tissue that is normally found in the uterine lining (the lining of the womb) are found in other organs areas of the body.
Though endometriosis is usually located in the lower abdomen or the pelvis, it can also appear in any part of the body.
Endometriosis may also affect:
- The fallopian tubes
- The ovaries
- The lymph nodes
- The peritoneum
A hysterectomy to remove the uterus may cure part of the problem, but the lesions on other parts of the reproductive organs must be removed as well.
Typically, the endometrial tissue is expelled during menstruation. However, this is not the case with displaced tissue. This eventually leads to physical symptoms like pain. When the lesions grow more, they begin to affect bodily functions. For instance, the fallopian tubes may be blocked.
As you experience pain and other symptoms, you will find it very difficult to live a normal everyday life. This condition gets in the way of work, family and can result in steep medical care costs.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Long-term lower-back and pelvic pain
- Severe menstrual cramps that cannot be relieved with NSAIDS
- Heavy menstrual bleeding in which the pads and tampons need to be changed after every 1 or 2 hours.
- Periods can last longer than a week
- Bowel and urinary problems such as diarrhea, pain, bloating and constipation.
- Vomiting and nausea.
- Bloody urine or stool.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Spotting or bleeding between periods.
Other medical conditions including ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) mimic the symptoms of endometriosis.
While pain is the most common indicator of endometriosis, its severity does not correlate with the extent of the disease.
The pain often goes away after menopause, which is when the body stops producing the hormone estrogen. But if hormone therapy is applied during menopause, the symptoms may likely continue.
The only relief for these symptoms is pregnancy.
5 Signs that You Might Have this Condition
Complications from Endometriosis
Complications related to endometriosis may include:
- An increased risk for developing endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma or ovarian cancer.
- Infertility can affect over 50% of women with endometriosis
- Ovarian cysts
- Intestinal and bladder complications
- Scar tissue and adhesion development
To avoid any further complications, it is important to visit your healthcare provider.
Can you Get Pregnant with Endometriosis?
If you suffer from this condition, you may wonder whether or not you can get pregnant. According to Very Well Family, it’s possible, but it may not be easy. They mention that couples who have undiagnosed problems getting pregnant may actually have mild cases of this disorder. Because it’s so difficult to diagnose, many people go through their entire lifetimes without ever knowing that they have it.
If you define infertility as the inability to conceive after trying for one year, 30-50% of people with endo will experience this.
Why is it More Difficult to Conceive?
It’s not really clear why people with this condition have a more difficult time conceiving. However, there are a few theories to consider.
Blockage of Reproductive Organs
Scar tissue and adhesions may block or distort the reproductive organs and impede their normal functioning. If you have lesions in your fallopian tubes, the egg and sperm can be prevented from meeting.
Increased inflammation, such as caused by Endo is linked to decreased fertility.
Problems with Implantation of the Embryo, or Poor Egg Quality
Seeking Medical Help with Fertility
If you’re been diagnosed with this condition, the usual advice of trying for a year on your own to get pregnant is not recommended. Instead, try for six months. If you’re unsuccessful, then seek treatment from a medical professional. Or, you opt to head straight to the fertility clinic.
Stop Taking Birth Control Pills
One common way to treat the symptoms of this condition is birth control pills. They really do help to lesson period pain in many cases, although they do nothing to “cure” it.
However, if you’re trying to get pregnant, this obviously won’t work. The good news is that once you stop taking them, you should regain your natural fertility in only a few months.
Can Pregnancy Cure Endometriosis?
A common myth is that getting pregnant will cure this condition. However, it’s just a myth! When you’re pregnant, some of the symptoms may be temporarily masked. It’s similar to how hormonal drug treatment can help to reduce the pain.
After giving birth, the symptoms usually resume. The only exception is if you’re breastfeeding with enough frequency and volume to suppress the menstrual cycle.
Causes of Endometriosis
To this day, the exact cause of endometriosis is not fully known.
However, physicians and healthcare specialists have surmised the following:
- Embryonic cell growth: Sometimes the embryonic cells that line the pelvis and the abdomen, grow into endometrial tissue within those cavities.
- Menstrual flow problems: Instead of leaving the body in the usual manner, menstrual blood enters the fallopian tubes and the pelvis.
- Surgical scar: During a hysterectomy or c-section, the endometrial cells can move around.
- Fetal development: Some data shows that endometriosis can be present in a developing fetus, however, pubertal estrogen levels are believed to trigger the symptoms.
- Genetics: A woman may likely inherit endometriosis from a close family member who has the condition.
- Endometrial cell transport: The lymphatic system can transfer endometrial cells to various areas of the body.
- Immune system: Any problem with the immune system can prevent the elimination of extrauterine endometrial tissue.
- Hormones: Endometriosis is triggered by the hormone estrogen.
Endometriosis is not caused by douching, abortions, nor is it “all in your head!”
Risk Factors for Endo:
Any woman can get endometriosis, but there are some factors that increase its risk.
These risks include:
- Never given birth
- Age: Common in women aged between 30-40, although it can happen as soon as your first period
- Medical history: Having a medical history of uterine abnormalities, pelvic infection or a condition that does not expel menstrual blood.
- Genetics: One or more family members or relatives or have the condition.
- Menstrual history: Menses that last for more than a week or menstrual cycles of less than 27 days.
- Lack of exercise, caffeine and alcohol consumption can increase estrogen levels.
There are some health conditions that have been linked to endometriosis. These conditions include asthma, allergies, some autoimmune diseases, some chemical sensitivities, ovarian cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and breast cancer.
Researchers found some links between endometriosis and exposure to certain chemicals such as phthalates.
Treatment for Endometriosis
There are a number of things you can do to help mask the symptoms of this condition. Basically, you can reduce the pain and inflammation, but nothing except surgery will really cure it.
Treatment methods for endometriosis include:
- Hormones: Hormonal therapies include Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists, hormonal birth control, Danazol or Medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera). The placement of a intrauterine device (IUD) may also be recommended.
- Pain medications: Pain medications that can treat painful menses may include prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
- Fertility treatment: in-vitro fertilization (IVF) may be a suitable alternative for pregnancy.
- Surgery: Initial surgery can help remove areas of endometriosis, whereas a hysterectomy may be necessary for the removal of both ovaries.
Can Hormonal Treatment Cure Endometriosis?
Birth control, or other hormonal therapies like an IUD are common ways to treat this condition. However, a common myth is that they cure it.
The truth is that hormonal therapies can only help to control the pain from the condition, but they do nothing to treat the underlying cause of the pain, tissue in parts of the body where it shouldn’t be. Once you stop taking the drugs, it’s most likely that the symptoms will reappear.
In reality, surgery is the only treatment option that will actually cure the condition.
How to Manage the Symptoms from Home
Alternative and complementary treatments include chiropractic, acupuncture and herbal medicine. Although there is little evidence to back its effectiveness.
Caffeine can worsen the symptoms of endometriosis and the only solution is to avoid it.
Exercises such as walking can reduce pain as well as slow the condition’s progress by lowering estrogen levels.
Due to the long-term complications of endometriosis, it is very crucial to monitor the symptoms of endometriosis. If you experience unexpected bleeding or intolerable pain, report to your doctor immediately.
Even though there is currently no cure for the condition, many women are able to lower the pain of the symptoms and still bear children.
Learn more here: Natural Remedies for Menstrual Disorders.
Natural Treatment Options
Learn more about the Endometriosis Diet
There are certain foods to eat, and certain foods to avoid if you’re diagnosed with this condition.
In general, you should try to include more:
- Fruits + veggies
- Whole grains
- Omega 3’s
- Soy (controversial!)
- Supplements with proven results
And you should try to limit your intake of:
- Red meat
- Trans fat
- Processed food
Endometriosis Diet Tip #1: Eat Lots of Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are packed with minerals, vitamins and fiber. By filling your plate with a combination of these items, your body will receive a good measure of essential nutrients and lower your intake of empty calories.
These types of foods are especially beneficial for women with endometriosis. As a matter of fact, it has been reported that a higher intake of fiber lowers the levels of estrogen in their body. This indicates that a high-fiber diet may be very suitable for women with endometriosis. And fruits, vegetables as well as whole grains are indeed the best sources of dietary fiber.
These foods also provide antioxidants, which are very useful in preventing inflammation. According to one study, women with endometriosis who followed a high-antioxidant diet for four months had experienced an increased capacity for antioxidants and a decrease in markers of oxidative stress.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #2: Increase Intake of Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fats comprise of healthy, anti-inflammatory fats that are found in fatty fish, as well as other animal and plant sources. Certain fats such as plant oils that contain omega-6 fats can promote pain and inflammation. But omega-3 fats are assumed to have the opposite effect, that act as the building blocks of your body’s pain- and inflammation-relieving molecules.
And seeing as endometriosis is associated with increased inflammation and pain, having a high ratio of omega-3 fats over omega-6 fats in your diet can be quite beneficial for women with this disease.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #3: Limit your Intake of Red Meat
It has been reported that red meat, including processed red meat, can increase the risk of several health-related problems. It also states that replacing red meat with another source of protein can reduce the risk of inflammation, which is usually associated with endometriosis.
One study concluded that women who consumed more meat as well as ham had an increased risk of endometriosis, as compared to those who are little ham or meat. However, two other studies failed to reach that conclusion.
There is some evidence which suggests that a high intake of red meat could be associated with increased levels of estrogen in blood. And since endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, there is a greater chance of contracting it if estrogen levels are high.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #4: Keep Away From Trans Fat
Trans fats have been touted for being unhealthy for the past couple of years. According to research, trans fats can increase the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce “good” HDL cholesterol, which thereby increases the risk of death and heart disease.
Trans fats are made when liquid unsaturated fats come in contact with hydrogen and then turn solid. Manufacturers often use trans fats to give their products a longer shelf life and also a more spreadable texture. As a result, it makes them ideal for being used in a range of fried and processed foods such as fries, donuts, crackers and pastries.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that from 2018 onwards, trans fats have been banned to be used in food products due to the number of dangers they pose for our health.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #5: Cut Back On Processed Foods
Processed foods are typically high in unhealthy sugar and fats, low in fiber and essential nutrients and can promote inflammation and pain, which ultimately increases the risk of endometriosis.
Cottonseed, corn and peanut oil consist of omega-6 fats that can increase uterine cramping, pain and inflammation. And the only counter, as mentioned earlier, are omega-3 fats that are found in fish, flax and walnuts that can reduce pain, inflammation and cramping.
As such, you must limit your intake of crackers, chips, pastries, candy and fried foods to decrease endometriosis-related pain.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #6: Reduce Alcohol and Caffeine
Health professionals firmly recommend women with endometriosis decrease their intake of alcohol and caffeine. Various studies have revealed that women with endometriosis consume more quantities of alcohol than those without the disease.
However, this does not prove that a higher intake of alcohol causes the condition. It could very well mean that women with endometriosis tend to drink more alcohol due to the disease.
In fact, there are several other studies that do not show any link between alcohol intake and endometriosis.
The same goes for caffeine. Even though there have been a few studies that claim caffeine or coffee is linked with a higher risk of endometriosis, a large review does not conclude this to be true.
But in spite of the results, alcohol and caffeine have been associated with increased levels of estrogen, which is associated with endometriosis.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #7: Try A Gluten-Free Diet
Another solution to reduce the symptoms of endometriosis is by following a gluten-free diet. The ones who are not often recommended for this diet are those who do not have celiac disease or a specific gluten sensitivity. It can be low on fiber and nutrients, while high in refined starches.
Nevertheless, there is evidence indicating that gluten-free diet can be beneficial for those with endometriosis.
One study involving 207 women showed that after following a 12-month gluten-free diet, 75% of them experienced a significant decrease in pain. This study didn’t include a control group, therefore, the placebo effects is unaccounted for.
Even so, another study involving a group involving 300 women found similar results.
Endometriosis Diet Tip #8: Add Some Soy to your Diet
Some experts recommend avoiding soy if you have endometriosis, but some evidence suggests that it may decrease the risk of this disease.
The theory behind it is that the phytoestrogens in soy block the effects of estrogen, which is turn can reduce endometriosis. The net result can be an anti-estrogen effect.
Supplements to Consider for Endometriosis
Apart from foods to eat, and foods to avoid if you have this condition, there are some supplements you may want to consider as well. Check with a naturopath for advice most specific to your situation, or consider the following:
Vitamin E + C
One small study gave some people suffering from Endometriosis a daily Vitamin E + C supplement. The results showed a decrease in pelvic pain and inflammation.
Zinc and Vitamins A, C, and E
Another study examined the effect of zinc, along with these three vitamins. The results showed a higher level of antioxidant markers.
Curcumin is a widely known supplement used to treat various menstrual disorders naturally. It helps to inhibit endometrial cells and tissue growth.
Diagnosis for this condition can be challenging because there is no one test for evaluating it.
The only possible way to determine whether you have the condition or not is by undergoing a surgical laparoscopy. This is a procedure in which a thin, lighted tube equipped with a miniature camera, known as a laparoscope, is inserted through a small incision in the pelvic area.
Diagnosis can be categorized as stated below:
- Stage 1: Lesions are small and isolated.
- In stage 2: Mild lesions may be several and adhesions are possible.
- Stage 3: Lesions could be moderate, superficial or deep with clear adhesions.
- Stage 4: There are multiple, severe lesions that are both deep and superficial, with prominent adhesions.
It could take years to receive a diagnosis.
Other diagnostic methods include radiologic imaging with ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a pelvic exam, as well as using medications such as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or birth control.
Can Teenagers Have Endometriosis?
One of the most common myths surrounding this condition is that teenagers and younger people can’t have it. This isn’t true. This a carry over from the 1970’s when the only way to diagnose it was with very invasive surgery.
Usually for younger people, doctors (and patients) didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. It’s for this reason that many people commonly believe it’s a condition that strikes only people in middle age.
However, recent studies have shown that many people begin to experience symptoms in their 20’s. There are even some people who may have them appear as soon as their first period does.
What about Menstrual Cups and Endometriosis?
A common question that people have is whether or not they can use a menstrual cup if they have endometriosis. The best advice we can give you is to consult with your doctor.
Or, you could check out this article for more details: Menstrual Cups and Endometriosis.
Endometriosis: Have your say!
Any questions or advice about this condition? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.