Technically, endometriosis (endo) means that a woman’s uterine cells have migrated out of the uterus. Instead of staying in the womb to form the uterine lining, they attach to another body part and become endometrial ‘implants’. These implants can be found on a woman’s ovaries, fallopian tubes, colon, connective tissue, or any other place in the body. It has been found in the lungs, in the diaphragm, in the brain, in the knees. The cells can travel anywhere. The implants can severely disrupt the body’s natural processes.
The areas where the endometrial cells land in the body can determine the way that the woman’s condition presents and the way in which she experiences pain. It can be devastating for a woman’s immune system, hormonal balance, reproductive health, sexual intimacy, fertility, digestion. It is unique from person to person. No two women experience endometriosis in the exactly same way. Because no two people are the same, every woman’s path to treat their endo and heal is unique as well.
We can learn an incredible amount about our body and how to overcome the difficulties the condition brings by sharing our positive experiences in treating endometriosis so other women may glean whatever helpful information they are able to.
A New Time
In 2020 there are many options available to women that were not in existence even thirty years ago.
This is a new age in time and medicine. Collectively, our world is beginning to realize the ways in which women and women’s pain has been ignored. Ignored by doctors, our family, and even other women. Women do not always tell their story in fear of being judged over a condition that is related to menstruation, and if they do, their concerns may be considered to be lies or exaggerations.
Globally we are reevaluating what it means to be understanding and supportive of women. However, we cannot expect gender disparities to disappear anytime soon. It will be gradual.
The medical world is growing and evolving. There are treatments available now that are less invasive. There appears to be more acknowledgment of the physical and mental toll that endometriosis has and the importance of finding the right balance of care and support to help to place the woman’s condition into a state of remission.
Excision surgery is the gold standard for treatment because it removes the rogue endometrial cells. A surgeon who specializes in endometriosis will use robotic scissors to cut into the organ or tissue and remove all the implants that are present. The surgeon cannot guarantee that they will remove all of the cells, but removing the majority can help to decrease the pain considerably, if not entirely.
It is the most effective treatment available today, however, surgery is not a pleasant experience. There is a long recovery for most women and it often results in scar tissue and adhesions. Furthermore, endometriosis grows back so surgery may need to be performed every 3-6 years.
Nutrition and physical therapy can be a significant benefit and worth considering for pre and post-op healing.
- Hormonal Treatment
Hormones are used to treat endo because they can directly influence endometrial cells and alter women’s perception of pain.
They come in a few different forms.
One category is gonadotropin-releasing hormones. They stop the production of particular hormones which helps prevent the growth of endo. Prescription medications like Elagolix (Olrissa) or Lupron. Essentially, they send the body into a menopausal state. The impact can be extremely tough on the body and emotional for women who typically would not be experiencing this so early in their lives.
Another common hormonal treatment is birth control. Like Nuva Ring or Ortho Evra. They make your period lighter, shorter, and more regular which can lessen the intensity of the pain each month. However, women present with a wide array of side effects throughout the course of their time on birth control.
Progesterone and progestin reduce a woman’s period or stop it completely, as well as prevents pregnancy. When you stop, the symptoms are said to return.
If you experience migraines with an aura sensation it is important information to share and highlight with your doctors. Hormonal birth control can cause more damage than good if you are sensitive in this way.
This is a treatment option that is widely debated on its effectiveness in treating endometriosis. It is considered aggressive to remove the uterus entirely because it robs women of their option to have biological children. However, depending on the woman’s condition, it could be a necessary step.
Unfortunately, women can be encouraged into this option without understanding it may not be the solution to end their particular pain pattern and trying other therapies ahead of time.
- Pain Medications
Over the counter or prescribed pain medications can serve as a very necessary band-aid, however, they do not address the root cause of the issue. Medications come with side effects. With extended use, they can cause long-term damage to the body’s organs and digestive tract. They are not helping the body to get by, but not to heal.
Acupuncture is an ancient therapy that uses small needles placed along invisible energy channels called “meridians” that correspond to particular systems and organs in the body. The needles help to unblock channels and encourage the spread of energy, “Qi”. Overtime treatments work to bring the body into homeostasis and heal the underlying issue on a deep, cellular level. It has been known to place a woman’s endometriosis into remission and restore fertility.
- Herbal Medicine
Ayurvedic Medicine and Eastern medicine looks at the body as a whole and incorporate nutritional and lifestyle guidance as well as herbal remedies to target symptoms and treat ailments holistically.
Herbal remedies and flower essences can be useful in healing.
- Physical Therapy
Pelvic floor physical therapy can be beneficial to relax and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor that have been impacted by the endometrial cells, adhesions, and scar tissue from surgeries.
The therapist can support you by teaching you about your personal body mechanics and how to alleviate any constriction within your pelvic floor. They will often lead you through a series of exercises that are similar to common yoga poses that target the hips and lower back and rebuild strength in the pelvic floor as well.
Depending on how your pain presents, the therapist could perform internal work to release trigger points in the pelvic floor wall and manually loosen the constricted muscles and ligaments.
- Massage and Body Work
Osteopathy, Cranial-Sacral Therapy, Chiropractic, Kinesiology, Reflexology, and Reiki all work to provide immediate and long-term relief with the symptoms and introduce a sense of calm to the body to activate natural healing responses.
Food can be used as medicine to support the body and reduce inflammation and ease digestion which contributes to alleviating endo. Many women find a reduction of their symptoms with nutritional changes alone, demonstrating how essential it can be. Every person is different so finding the right balance with nutrition for you can take time.
- Yoga and The Breath
Yoga helps one to connect with their body and focus their awareness on the areas that are in need of attention. It helps to relax and strengthen the body. It improves musculoskeletal alignment and balance. The practice of moving from pose to pose can be a meditative experience. When you add in focused breathing
Developing a regular movement and breath practive can be a powerful foundation to one’s healing journey.
Women have been called “hysterical” for “overreacting” to pain for thousands of years.
Sigmund Freud often diagnosed women experiencing heavy periods, infertility, and generalized pain with hysteria and concluded that much of what these women were feeling was psychosomatic. However, when endo specialists study these women’s symptoms and doctor’s language more closely it is believed that they had endometriosis or other similarly painful gynecological conditions.
We can see that women were treated in painful ways in Ancient Greece. One treatment for women with heavy menstrual bleeding was placing leeches inside the woman’s uterus. Ouch.
If you fast-forward to modern times we still have many treatment options that feel dehumanizing and barbaric. It can take women 8-10 years to receive a diagnosis for endometriosis because doctors brush their symptoms aside and others assure them that it is ‘normal’. Woman are often handed a sedative over a pain killer when they are in the emergency room complaining of pain.
Since there is no cure, a woman with endo is combating their illness the majority of their life. (It is possible to experience symptoms before you menstruate and after menopause.)
It is time for there to be an evolution in treating endo .
There are a growing number of resources available through medical journals, new books are being written by specialists, and endometriosis advocates and wellness coaches are helping endo women navigate a way through the healing process.
There is a lot of work to do to understand what endometriosis is, how it forms, and how to find a cure for it.
I believe there are many leaps and bounds that will happen in the next decade.
Until then, one of the primary focuses should be around ending the stigma around menstruation and women’s pain. Especially with our daughters, sisters, mothers.
We need doctors who are willing to listen and empathize and work to understand the full complexity of how our pain and our our illness impacts us and work to address the underlying root issue.
We have an obligation to the women in our world to break the taboo around women’s pain.
- Endometriosis, A Key to Healing and Fertility Through Nutrition by Dian Shepperson Mills and Michael Vernon PhD
- Endometriosis, Ancient Disease, Ancient Treatments, Cameran Nezhat, Farr Nezhat
- Harvard Health, Women and Pain, Disparities in Experiences and Treatment by Laura Kiesel
- The National Institute of Health, Treatments for Endometriosis