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What is Endometriosis & How to Treat it
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What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition that is caused by endometrial tissue (the tissue that normally lines the uterus) that is displaced outside of the uterus and is reactive to hormones such as estrogen. The most common places to find endometrial deposits are in the abdominal cavity where it can grow on the inner layer of the abdominal wall, bladder, colon, ovaries, and/or the fallopian tubes.
Because this tissue is still responsive to hormonal changes in the body each month the tissue will shed, or bleed when the body naturally would at the end of the cycle. When this shedding occurs, blood, which is trapped in the abdomen, causes inflammation and this causes much of the pain associated with endometriosis.
Over time, chronic inflammation leads to the formation of scar tissue. Additionally, the endometrial cells cause a local immune response and this leads to further chronic inflammation and scarring.
Nobody knows exactly why someone develops endometriosis, but there are many theories. The important thing is that we know that it is an inflammatory condition with an abnormal immune response, and it is triggered by cyclic hormonal changes, environmental hormonal exposures, and other factors that cause inflammation including diet. The rates of endometriosis are high; some sources state 1 and 10 women are affected by the condition.
What symptoms are related to Endometriosis?
- Severe pelvic and abdominal pain with cramping at the time of menses (some experience severe pain between periods as well)
- Pain with intercourse
- Low back pain
- Urinary problems
- Bloating and abdominal discomfort
Endometriosis is one of the most common causes of infertility, leading to as many as 50% of cases. Some women may have endometriosis without symptoms, only to discover that they have the problem when they experience difficulty becoming pregnant.
Endometriosis typically progresses and worsens over time as chronic inflammation leads to accumulation of scar tissue causing “adhesions” that cause the organs like the intestines and bladder to become fixed in place leading to frequent or even pain with bowel movements and urination, and painful sex.
How is it treated?
Conventional medicine mostly aims at symptom relief through medications and surgery. Frequent use of pain medications like Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS provide relief, but over time damage the stomach lining and can be hard on other organs as well.
Oral contraceptives and GnRH agonists can relieve symptoms of mild to moderate pain, but are also now without side effects, and don’t get to the root causes of the problem.
Removal of the endometrial tissue via a laparoscopy can relieve symptoms for as long as two years, the symptoms do eventually return in most cases, and the procedure itself increases the likelihood of forming scar tissue.
A hysterectomy is also an option, but this is not an option for women who want to become pregnant, and it’s important to recognize that this is one of the most over-performed unnecessary surgeries in the US. While hysterectomy is sometimes helpful when symptoms are unbearable, it is major abdominal surgery, and major revenue for doctors and hospitals, so get more than one opinion if you’re not 100% sure you want this done.
The natural approach is aimed at reducing inflammation and pain while optimizing the body’s immune response. Therapies also promote natural detoxification of xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens), while aiming to balance hormones. Diet and herbal formulas play a role in symptom relief and have been proven to increase fertility and reduce endometrial adhesions as well as the spread of endometrial implants.