Regardless of whether endometriosis (or endo) is a household name to you, or you have never heard of it, you most likely know someone who is suffering from this disease. It is said that endo affects 1 in 10 women in the US, although there are many cases that go un-diagnosed so it is hard to get a precise statistic. Historically, this disease, and it’s symptoms, have been brushed under the rug. Women/teens with painful (often times crippling) cramps have been put on the birth control pill, told to take tylenol, been advised to have a hysterectomy, or told they are a hypochondriac.1 Currently we do not know the cause but they have found if your mom and sister have endo you are 7 times more likely to have it.
What is Endo?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease where tissue that is similar to the endometrial lining (this is what grows thick during the middle of the woman’s cycle and sloughs at menstruation) grows outside of the uterus. Typically this happens in the abdominal cavity but has also been found as far away from the uterus as the brain, though this is extremely rare. It is classified in 4 stages minimal to severe. The stages tell the severity of the lesions. Often women who have endometriosis have painful periods although there are cases where women with stage 4 have no pain. The pain is due to the inflammation of the external tissue responding to a woman’s hormones.
“Like it does inside the uterus, the tissue builds up and then sheds each month. But when the tissue is outside of the uterus, it can’t exit through the vagina and gets trapped in the body, causing pain and inflammation, the formation of scar tissue, and bowel problems.”2
Common Signs of Endometriosis
So how do you know if you have it? It is not uncommon for someone with endometriosis to be unaware of the fact. It is diagnosed through a surgical procedure, most of the time this is a laparoscopy. Some of the more common symptoms are:
- sciatica pain
- painful menstruation
- Painful intercourse
- Pelvic pain throughout the menstrual cycle
- Painful bowel movements
- Menstrual diarrhea
- Painful exercise
- Painful pelvic exam
- Sciatica Pain
As one physician said when being interviewed in the documentary Endowhat?, “Can you do your best or are you disadvantaged by your symptoms? If you are disadvantaged it’s time to get help.”
So you have been diagnosed with endometriosis what can you do now?
- Educate Yourself
- This disease is highly individualistic so it’s important to do your own research and be your own advocate. Know that certain courses of treatment can make symptoms worse. The birth control pill for example, and the estrogen present in it, is just the right environment for lesions to grow. At best, if the birth control has a low dose of estrogen, it is only masking symptoms it does not treat them. Another common course of treatment is Lupron which forces your body into a state of menopause. (There is information to be found about the harm that can be caused by Lupron but also remember that at best this too is only masking the problem.)
2. Find the right physician
- Endo surgery is 7-9 times more risky than other surgeries because of the other organs that are potentially involved. So it is important to have a skilled surgeon on your side and someone who is well versed in it. Some examples of things to ask your doctor are: How many endometriosis surgeries have you done? What is your training? Do you work collaboratively with other doctors? And remember surgery may not be what you have to do! Look for a doctor that is digging deeper into what is causing your inflammatory response and helping you eliminate those things. Because that will be a necessary step to getting you healthy. (Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education Facebook page is a great place to look for referrals for doctors.)
3. Reduce or eliminate environmental toxins
- This is important to helping you strengthen your immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect your body. A lot of products that we use in our homes and on our skin have ingredients in them that act as estrogen. Xenoestrogen can be found in a lot of items we use daily and when it interacts with your cells it has 1,000 times the effect of natural estrogen, that your body makes on its own. Keep in mind endo lesions need estrogen to grow and it doesn’t matter if it is natural/artificial. (This website is a great resource to see how your current products stack up.)
4. Remove Inflammation
- Often times people will eliminate all food that can cause inflammatory responses, but remember to work with your doctor on this. It should be specific to you and your body what foods you should avoid and supplements to add.
Remember that endo is not a death sentence. It is a disease, yes, but not one without hope. Nor does it have to mean a lifetime of surgeries. It can simply be one surgery done right.
I received my information from several sources. For those wishing to learn more I recommend going to the original sources. Please keep in mind that this field is much debated and there are many different opinions on how best to treat endo. For example, some doctors say to take the birth control pill to stop new growth. Other’s recommend taking a birth control pill but only with a low dose of estrogen. But the birth control pill is only masking the problem not solving anything and in fact can exacerbate symptoms. You may even be told you need to have a hysterectomy just keep in mind that a hysterectomy is not going to eliminate the endometriosis, only excision surgery can do that. Be your own advocate and educate yourself!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. I have done a lot of research about endometriosis to try to understand it better. All of the information in this article can be found from the links below.