Endometriosis is one of the most common health issues experienced among women and one of the leading causes of infertility. How common? It’s estimated that over 176 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis symptoms.
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows in other areas of the body. The female reproductive system includes the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. During a normal menstrual cycle, the ovaries make hormones, which signal the lining of the uterus to thicken. This is called the
— the inner mucous membrane of the uterus. The endometrium builds up in preparation to receive a fertilized egg. If the egg is never fertilized, this leads to menstruation, or the shedding of the lining.
For people with endometriosis, the lining tissue grows outside of the uterus. The misplaced tissue responds to the hormones by thickening and shedding with every menstrual cycle; however, the thick tissue is outside of the uterus and is unable to pass through the vagina and out of the body. The endometrial flow is then trapped and may cause inflammation and pain. Adhesions, or scar tissue, may form and stick to one organ to another. It can even cause the fallopian tubes to close, which is a dangerous endometriosis symptom because it can lead to infertility.
It’s believed that 40 percent to 60 percent of women who have very painful periods also have endometriosis, and 20 percent to 30 percent of women who are unable to get pregnant are believed to have this disease. (
There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but various treatments are used to relieve the symptoms. Some medication options, like hormonal therapy, can increase the risk of long-term infertility and cancer. If endometriosis symptoms become too severe, surgical procedures may even be necessary.
Because 2 percent to 50 percent of women are thought to have “silent” endometriosis — displaying only subtle symptoms or no clinical symptoms at all — it’s important to be aware of the endometriosis symptoms. Endometrial tissue, or implants, can grow in the outside of the womb or in the wall of a fallopian tube.
, the “Pouch of Douglas” — which is between the womb and the rectum at the end of the bowel — and the connective tissue in this area. It is when the ovaries or fallopian tubes are affected that women experience fertility problems. (
With many women, the progression of endometriosis symptoms is slow, developing over many years. Each woman experiences a different range of pain, which can make a diagnosis difficult. The pain typically begins in the lower abdomen and intensifies during a women’s menstrual period or sexual intercourse. As the pain becomes more severe, it may begin to radiate through the lower belly, back and legs — it’s often described as cramp-like pain. (
. This includes dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, caffeine and carbohydrates. Eliminate these foods from your diet for at least three weeks, paying close attention to your body changing throughout the process. Alcohol, soy and other
are important as well because they replenish the loss of iron in the body, which is a result of excess bleeding. Some foods containing iron include liver, beef steak, navy beans, black beans, spinach, egg yolk, prunes, artichokes and collard greens.
, 58 women with endometriosis were followed at four, 12, 24 and 48 weeks after starting treatment to check for endometriosis symptoms. Thirty-two patients in the pycnogenol treatment group took 60 milligrams orally per day for 48 weeks. The 26 other patients were treated in the standard way, using gonadotropin-releasing hormone
Treatment with pycnogenol slowly but steadily reduced endometriosis symptoms, while treatment with hormone therapy reduced the symptoms more effectively at first, but 24 weeks after the end of treatment, the scores suggested a recurrence of signs. There was no influence on menstrual cycles or estrogen levels with pcynogenol treatment, while menstruation and estrogen levels decreased with hormone therapy. The researchers concluded that pycnogenol serves as a therapeutic alternative to hormone therapy in the treatment of endometriosis. (
daily to balance hormone levels. B vitamins benefit overall health and reduce toxicity in the body, supporting cellular function. They also regulate and balance the body’s organs and support healthy immunity. Vitamin B6, for example, relieves chronic pain, boosts mood and increases energy levels.
may be an effective, safe and well-tolerated adjunct therapy for endometriosis-related pelvic pain. For the study, 18 young women, ages 12–22 with laparoscopically diagnosed endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain were analyzed. Participants in the active acupuncture group experienced 62 percent less pain after four weeks, which differed significantly from the control group’s average reduction. (
Unfortunately, conventional treatments for endometriosis can require a period of experiments in order to find what works. Pain medication is typically prescribed to treat the pain but not the underlying issue. Hormone treatments, such as hormonal contraception or hormonal therapy, are a common path that doctors pursue. They regulate hormones, slow down the growth of endometrial implants and decrease menstrual flow.
, bleeding, breast discomfort, depression, fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and weight gain. These side effects can be difficult to live with, and some women cannot complete a course of treatment because they find them intolerable.
) Because it serves as a synthetic male hormone, danzol has androgenic side effects, such as weight gain, increased body hair and acne, decrease in breast size, deepening of the voice, water retention, and oily skin or hair.
is the most common procedure utilized by doctors for the treatment of endometriosis. The surgeon makes a small incision to insert a lighted viewing instrument called a laparoscope. This allows the surgeon to view the internal organs in order to look for signs of endometriosis and remove any visible endometriosis implants and scar tissue that can cause pain or infertility. If a cyst is found, that is removed as well.
During the procedure, the patient’s abdomen is inflated with gas, which pushes the abdominal wall away from the organs so the surgeon can see clearly. The scar tissue or implants are removed by cutting them or destroying them with a laser bream or electric current. The risks of laparoscopic surgery include pelvic infection, uncontrolled bleeding, scar tissue formation, and damage to the bowel, bladder or ureters. (
is the surgical removal of the uterus through the abdominal wall or vagina. A total hysterectomy involves removing the entire uterus, including the body of the uterus and the cervix. A subtotal hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus but not the cervix. Other organs may also be removed during a hysterectomy, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
A hysterectomy does not guarantee relief from all endometriosis symptoms because there may still be endometrial tissue left inside the body after the removal of the uterus. According to a 2014 review published in
, a high recurrence rate of 62 percent was reported in advanced stages of endometriosis in which the ovaries were conserved. Based on the 77 articles that were identified for the review, incomplete excision of endometriosis is the most predominant reason in the literature for the recurrence of endometriosis symptoms. (
The root cause of endometriosis in unclear, but there appears to be a strong genetic link within families. It’s agreed that endometriosis is not contagious, thus it can’t be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
have endometriosis. Beginning menstruation early in life, delaying pregnancy until an older age, never giving birth and experiencing menopause later in life may also increase the risk of endometriosis. (
There are some other theories pertaining to the causes of endometriosis. One such theory is that menstrual flow is backed up into the fallopian tubes and pelvic and abdominal cavity during menstruation, causing the endometrial tissue to grow outside of the uterus.
A final explanation is that there is an issue with the interaction between a woman’s hormones or her immune system. Our immune system is supposed to ensure that tissue from a particular organ does not grow elsewhere in the body, so some fingers are pointed at the immune system for allowing endometrial tissue to grow outside of the uterus.
A 2008 scientific review conducted in Italy investigated the possible role of endometriosis and infertility in increasing the risk of cancer. Many studies showed that women affected by infertility may be more at risk for endometrial cancer, particularly if affected by ovulatory disorders. Furthermore, infertility and endometriosis are now often treated with medical devices that could by themselves modify the hormonal environment of a woman’s body and serve as cofactors in the cellular changes toward cancer development.
The researchers conclude that there are no firm answers about the precise effects of infertility and endometriosis and their treatments on cancer risk, but further studies involving participants undergoing fertility drug treatments and treatments for ovulatory disorders are in order. (
followed records of 20,686 women hospitalized with endometriosis from 1969–1983 and the National Swedish Cancer Registry through 1989 in order to identify subsequent cancer diagnoses. Fifty-five percent of these women underwent gynecological operations as a result of an endometriosis diagnoses.
was particularly elevated among subjects with a long-standing history of ovarian endometriosis. The researchers suggest that based on the these findings, further attention should be given to the risk of breast, ovarian and hematopoietic cancers among women with endometriosis and exploring possible hormonal and immunologic reasons for excess risks. (
Because of this increased risk of cancer that is apparent in several studies, women with endometriosis should be more vigilant. Be sure to get cancer screenings, like mammograms. Pay attention to your body and aware of early signs of ovarian cancer, such as bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating, and a frequent need to urinate. Discuss the increased risk of cancer with your health care provider, and set up a plan for prevention, such as reducing stress, eating a healthy and anti-inflammatory diet, and engaging in physical exercise.
Endometriosis symptoms unfortunately occur in a large percentage of women of reproductive age, but there are steps you can take to prevent and treat this disease. The first step is knowing and identifying symptoms so you can find the proper methods of treatment.
If you eat an anti-inflammatory diet and consume beneficial supplements, you can curb endometriosis — as is the case with most conditions. In addition, acupuncture and essentials can do wonder, and by combining these four natural remedies, you can help avoid unnecessary and dangerous surgery.
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