Endometriosis is a word you’ve very likely heard before; maybe you’ve even been diagnosed with it. But what is it, exactly? With March claiming endometriosis-awareness month, we at The Bloomi decided to dig a little deeper in honor of the occasion.
Let’s break it down.
Endometriosis is an inflammatory, chronic, non life-threatening condition in which cells that typically only exist within the lining of the uterus grow outside of the uterine lining. These cells can be found within the uterine muscle, and even outside of the uterus entirely (endometriosis can be found on other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes, and even attached to the bowel and bladder). While we’re not entirely sure what causes endometriosis (or how to prevent it), we do know that these inflammatory cells can cause painful periods, painful sex, and chronic pelvic pain. If you are experiencing these symptoms, the best place to start is always with your OB/GYN provider. Endometriosis typically requires surgery for a definitive diagnosis, so a detailed history of your symptoms is helpful to determine if endometriosis may be to blame. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with endometriosis? Continue to see your provider regularly for the best symptom management.
Because endometriosis is a chronic condition with no definitive cure, many women battle the symptoms of endometriosis throughout their lifetime. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 women have some form of endometriosis. While treatment (which varies person to person) typically involves surgery, there are many ways to help manage the pesky symptoms. We’ve done the research and rounded up 8 ways to help.
1. Hormonal birth control when not trying to conceive
One of the best ways to manage symptoms of endometriosis is with hormonal birth control. Endometriosis pain can be linked to ovulation and uterine lining growth and shedding, both of which can be minimized with the use of hormones. So, which birth control, specifically? While oral contraceptive pills are often a go-to for many providers treating patients with endometriosis, the contraceptive patch, the vaginal ring, depo-provera shot, nexplanon implant, and hormonal IUD are also good options, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Hormonal birth control is extremely patient-specific; in order to find out which option may be best for you, pay your provider a visit to discuss.
Sometimes, your basic OTC ibuprofen will do the trick. For painful periods, ACOG recommends taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (such as ibuprofen) 1-2 days before your period even starts. That, and make sure to take it around-the-clock, as in, every 8 hours. Make sure to check with your provider before starting this regimen, as ibuprofen is not safe for everyone.
A little heat can go a long way. A 2013 study found that application of hot water bottles (and exercise) helped to diminish pesky cramps. Hot water bottles, heated blankets, warm baths, and heat wraps or patches are all fantastic options when trying to ease cramping.
4. Exercise and a Healthy Diet
That same 2013 study found that regular exercise can also help ward off period pain. Another study, done in 2017, had similar findings. Using 30-60 minutes of moderate, low-impact exercises at least 3 days a week, those girls treated with physical activity and posture-improving exercises saw improvement in endometriosis-related pain. While more research is needed on its overall ability to curb cramps, making physical activity a priority is never a bad idea. In addition to exercise, a healthy diet could possibly aid in overall symptom management. More research is needed to solidify its role, but just like exercise, following a healthy diet low in processed foods and high in veggies is almost never a bad idea.
5. Herbal Supplements
The verdict is still out on if certain herbal supplements can help ease endo-related pain. A 2016 study found that fenugreek, fish oil, B1, valerian, ginger, zataria and zinc may possibly help with painful periods. More research is needed in order to confirm effectiveness. And while herbal supplements are over-the-counter and easy to get, they aren’t regulated by the FDA and may have certain side effects or drug-interactions you’re not aware of. Because of this, it’s always important to check with your provider before starting a supplement.
6. Pelvic floor physical therapy
While not necessarily specific to endometriosis, pelvic floor physical therapy is often helpful in treating and managing pelvic pain, especially pain with intercourse. If you’re experiencing pain with intercourse, your first step should always be to see your provider. If recommended, pelvic floor physical therapy can help strengthen, and relax, pelvic floor muscles, improving overall discomfort.
Yep, acupuncture. It may seem a little scary, but acupuncture has been found to improve pain tolerance, decrease the amount of circulating estrogen, and even improve immune function. That last benefit is not as unrelated as you may think; while the exact link between immune function and endometriosis is not completely understood, is it thought that the immune system plays some role in the disease.
8. TENS units
What’s a TENS unit? Great question. The word TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. These at-home units deliver stimulation to nerves surrounding the targeted area of pain, and have been used on various types of chronic pain for years. A 2015 study found that they may also be useful in alleviating pain associated with endometriosis.
Endometriosis, and the symptoms it causes, can often interfere with daily activities. Many women will miss days of work, or school, as a result, and it goes without saying that painful intercourse can have a hugely negative impact on quality of life. If you’re suffering from symptoms of endometriosis, see your provider regularly for personalized care and management, and consider giving these 8 tips a shot.