Understanding endometriosis

Endometriosis occurs when tissue normally lining the uterine wall (endometrium) also grows outside your uterus. This abnormally placed tissue commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and other soft tissue structures in your pelvic region. It can but rarely spreads beyond your pelvic organs.

Stimulated by reproductive hormones in your body, this displaced endometrial tissue undergoes the same monthly changes as the tissue of your uterine lining. It thickens and then breaks down and bleeds with your menstrual cycles. With no way to exit your body, this displaced endometrial tissue becomes trapped and causes inflammation and pain and over time may result in scar tissue formation leading to infertility.

Endometriosis can affect women in their teens and throughout their childbearing years. The severity and nature of the symptoms can vary among women. Some women note severe pelvic and lower abdominal pain that occurs even between menstrual periods. Others aren’t aware they have the condition until they experience difficulty becoming pregnant. The symptoms typically begin to resolve as you undergo menopausal changes and your menstrual cycles eventually end.  

Common symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Persistent pelvic and lower back pain
  • Excessively painful menstrual cramps
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding between periods
  • Painful sexual intercourse or bleeding after intercourse
  • Painful bowel movements and blood in stools or urine
  • Difficulty becoming pregnant

Tips for living with endometriosis

Because there is no cure for endometriosis, the goal of treatment is to effectively decrease your symptoms and enhance your ability to become pregnant should that be your desire. The first step in any effective treatment plan includes an evaluation by your gynecologist. 

We may recommend:

  • Hormone therapy to stabilize estrogen levels and control the cyclic changes that cause endometrial tissue to expand, bleed, and break down
  • Medications to relieve your pain and reduce inflammation
  • Minimally invasive surgery to remove displaced endometrial tissue
  • Infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help increase your chance of conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy

We also may recommend lifestyle changes that can effectively reduce the impact of endometriosis on your life and help improve your overall health at the same time.

These lifestyle modifications may include:

  1. A nutritious diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, and fish but reduces your red meat intake. Research has indicated a link between endometriosis and diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in red meat. Some nutrition experts believe the high amount of fat in red meat encourages your body to produce chemicals called prostaglandins. These substances may increase your natural estrogen production and excess endometrial tissue growth.
  2. Reducing your caffeine intake. Caffeine found in chocolate, coffee, and soda also seems to increase your odds of experiencing endometriosis and may worsen the symptoms overall. Excessive alcohol intake also puts you at higher risk of developing the condition and can aggravate already existing endometriosis.
  3. Increased exercise. When you exercise regularly, you may produce less estrogen and have lighter periods. This can help improve the symptoms of endometriosis over time, and routine high-intensity activities such as running or cycling may even prevent endometriosis.
  4. Reducing stress. Exercise helps reduce stress by releasing brain chemicals called endorphins, and stress is another factor that often worsens the symptoms of endometriosis. Endorphins are also natural pain relievers. Even just a few minutes of physical activity that makes you breathe hard or sweat can entice your brain to release endorphins.
  5. Yoga and other low-intensity workouts help relieve stress and include stretches specifically designed to affect the tissues and muscles in your pelvis, which helps relieve pain as well as stress.

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