Endometriosis is a condition that affects the reproductive system and pelvic area of a woman’s body. The onset of the disease is subtle and often goes unnoticed, but gradually the symptoms begin to appear. Endometriosis is associated with the menstrual cycle and the hormones that trigger menstruation. The disease begins when tiny particles that resemble the lining of the uterus make their way towards the pelvic cavity. These particles start functioning like the uterine lining which is also known as endometrium. The endometrium responds to the hormones in the body and prepares for possible pregnancy every month by accumulating blood cells and other important chemicals. If pregnancy does not take place, the blood is shed through the menstrual period. The particles that travel to the pelvic cavity also function in the same manner and start reacting to hormones. However the blood that is shed from these growths cannot leave the body and this leads to internal bleeding and inflammation. This can continue for months and even years before symptoms of pain and discomfort start to surface. Many women only begin to suspect that something is wrong when they experience worsening pain during menstruation.

Symptoms of Endometriosis

The main concern associated with endometriosis is that the symptoms of the disease in the early stages seem like normal changes that usually occur due to the menstrual cycle. With time, the symptoms begin to worsen and there is also a gradual deterioration in health. There are also some rare instances when women do not experience any symptoms of endometriosis even in the later stages. These women may become aware of the disease when they undergo testing or surgery for other conditions. Endometriosis also does not occur in any fixed pattern and this makes it difficult for health care providers to detect the disease. Some of the symptoms may also appear similar to those of other conditions such as:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Appendicitis

Some of the most common symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Pain during and after menstruation
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Pain while urinating
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Infertility
  • Tiredness

There are also a few general symptoms which occur due to endometriosis, but are often confused for another condition. These include:

  • Low grade fever
  • Recurring allergies or infections
  • Headache
  • Low blood sugar
  • Depression

As endometriosis progresses, adhesions start to occur in the pelvic cavity. These adhesions are the result of the cysts which affect the pelvic organs and interfere with their functioning. This can lead to severe pain, digestion issues and bowel and urinary obstructions. The immune system is also affected and this puts the woman at risk for additional health complications. Research shows that women with endometriosis may be at a higher risk for developing the following conditions:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Under-activity of the thyroid gland
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Causes for Endometriosis

The exact cause of endometriosis has not been determined till now. However there are some theories that aim to throw light on why this condition develops.

  • One theory speculates that a small quantity of menstrual fluid flows back towards the pelvic cavity from the uterus during menstruation. This fluid contains endometrium cells. This occurrence is called retrograde menstruation. However many studies have shown that women who experience retrograde menstruation do not necessarily go on to develop endometriosis. This theory also does not explain why the disease sometimes develops in the breasts, lungs and other areas of the body.
  • Endometriosis may spread through the circulatory and lymphatic network
  • It was earlier thought that the disease may be transmitted during surgical procedures. However, this is not likely in recent times due to the improvements in surgical management.
  • Treatment such as estrogen replacement therapy may stimulate certain cells which then undergo a transformation and resemble other types of cells.
  • Endometriosis may run in families. There is also a genetic link to the tendency to have migrant endometrial cells in the pelvic cavity right from birth.
  • There may be a higher risk of endometriosis in women who are exposed to environmental toxins. Certain chemicals and compounds present in the environment can react adversely in the body and lead to imbalances.
  • Estrogen levels are balanced by the liver. The liver is also responsible for removing estrogen from the body. Diseases that affect the liver can increase the risk of endometriosis.
  • The most credible theory regarding the cause of endometriosis is that of an association with auto-immune disorders. These disorders can occur due to various genetic and environmental risk factors.

Remedies for Endometriosis

Endometriosis treatment usually involves medication or surgical intervention. The severity of the symptoms will determine the treatment approach. Whether the woman hopes to become pregnant is also an important factor in deciding the treatment. Since the cause of endometriosis is unknown, finding a treatment that is entirely successful in curing the disease is difficult. Today the main aim of treatment is to control the severity of the disease and alleviate the main symptoms of pain and infertility.

There are also some natural remedies for endometriosis which help to manage the symptoms of endometriosis and prevent aggravation.

  • Since exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals can influence the onset and development of the disease, it is important to avoid exposure to them. Some chemicals buildup in animal fat and hence foods such as red meat and high fat dairy products should be avoided.
  • Progesterone cream is used as part of alternative therapy for endometriosis. It is believed to delay the growth of stray endometrial cells. It may also relieve symptoms such as painful menstruation. The cream is made from soy or wild yam and converted to function like human progesterone. It may be applied to the thighs, chest, arms and wrists. It is imperative to consult a doctor before using any remedies such as these. There could be side effects due to excessive progesterone.
  • The hormone, cortisol is involved in the production of progesterone. Stress can elevate cortisol levels and this may affect progesterone levels, leading to hormonal imbalances. This can raise the risk of developing endometriosis. Therefore home remedies for endometriosis also involve methods of stress reduction such as yoga, meditation and breathing techniques.
  • Regular exercise helps to balance estrogen levels in the body and also boosts the immune system. Exercise also helps to ease pain and discomfort during the menstrual cycle.
  • Supplements such as rosemary and dandelion extracts are believed to be beneficial in alleviating symptoms of endometriosis. They help to regulate hormonal levels. It is advisable to consult your doctor before using these supplements.
  • The herb, motherwort, helps to enhance blood volume in the reproductive system and also stimulates better functioning. It thus helps in combating menstrual problems such as blood clots or poor flow. To prepare motherwort tea, add a teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of hot water and allow it to steep for about 15 minutes. Drink about three cups of the tea daily.
  • Chamomile helps to alleviate severe cramping and pain during menstruation which is often associated with endometriosis. It also helps to relieve stomach troubles. The herb may be used in the form of capsules, tincture or tea.

Be cautious about the use of herbal remedies and supplements however, because of the high risk of interactions with other medications. Always consult your doctor if you wish to try out any such alternative treatment.

Diet for Endometriosis

Although there may be no food cure for endometriosis, dietary modifications can help bring about positive changes in the health of an individual. There are certain foods that help to relieve symptoms of endometriosis in particular.

  • The compounds called indoles, which are present in vegetables such as kale, broccoli and cauliflower, help to control the metabolism of estrogen.
  • Flaxseeds may be beneficial in the treatment of endometriosis because they are found to bring about an improvement in conditions associated with estrogen.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may help to slow down the growth of abnormal endometrial tissue. They are present in fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna. Fish oil capsules can also help to boost your intake of omega 3 fatty acids.
  • A beneficial herbal tea for endometriosis can be made by combining herbs such as wild yam root, horsetail, red clover blossoms and red raspberry leaves. Combine all the herbs and add them to water. Bring the water to a boil and then let it simmer for five minutes. Cover and allow it to cool for some time. Strain and then drink. This tea may be consumed twice every day for a period of two weeks.
  • Foods such as caffeine, chocolate and carbonated beverages should be avoided as they can aggravate the symptoms of endometriosis.

Suggestion for Endometriosis

Some women obtain relief with acupuncture treatment. However there is little research on the effectiveness of such alternative treatments. Those who are interested in trying these treatments should consult a doctor first. It is also advisable to go to a trained professional of good repute. Insurance companies may not provide cover for these treatments and it is best to check with your insurance provider beforehand.

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Endometriosis - Frequently asked questions