Updated: May 16, 2019
What is endometriosis? For a disease that affects 10% of women worldwide, this condition has remained fairly invisible to the public sphere. If you know what you’re looking for, a plethora of information about endometriosis is just a quick Google search away . . . but say you’ve never heard of the disease. Say you’re a woman suffering from crippling menstrual cramps, and are being bounced between physicians who all seem stumped by your symptoms. Or worse, assume that you’re overreacting.
In some ways, this piece is a follow-up to the Open Letter we published last month, which called out unconscious gender biases within the medical community that dismiss the suffering of female patients. Really though, the main goal is to raise awareness for endometriosis specifically, since it’s one of the main conditions that often go undiagnosed . . . for an average of nine to ten years. Does that sound outrageous? It’s supposed to. Women—especially young women—are conditioned to repress, or silently tolerate, pain; when they do come forward seeking medical help, it’s very likely that a doctor will dismiss their experiences as over-reactions, or misdiagnose the condition.
While the main purpose of this piece is to provide self-care tips for women currently living with endometriosis, we want to take this quick moment to say to women everywhere: if you suffer from severe menstrual pain, especially if interferes with your work or social life, talk to a doctor! Painful menstruation isn’t the sole factor in diagnosing endometriosis, but it is a strong indicator of a serious medical issue. Also, if any of these symptoms sound familiar—“killer cramps,” extreme bloating, fatigue, excessive bleeding, pain during sex, diarrhea, painful bowel movements—you should definitely ask a doctor about endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a truly perplexing disease; we still don’t fully understand its causes, although scientists have their theories. For reasons we don’t fully understand, this hormonal and immune system disease causes endometrial tissue to grow in places outside of the uterus, i.e. the fallopian tubes, pelvic cavity, bladder, cervix, vulva, etc. While these growths generally form within the pelvic area, they can also develop in the lungs, thighs, or in other areas of the body. The main issue is obvious: these endometrial cells have no business growing anywhere, except for inside the uterus. The build-up of these cells turn into lesions or cysts, which disrupt the body’s daily functions, apply pressure to certain organs or ligaments, and, in general, inflict crippling pain on the individual.
All-Natural Self-Care Tips for Endometriosis
Although there are surgical options available to remove endometrial growths from the body, the disease itself isn’t curable. The unfortunate reality is that women living with this condition will have to bear the brunt of these persistent, painful symptoms for most of their reproductive life . . . and possibly during menopause as well.
Here’s the silver lining: there are support systems to help women cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with endometriosis. Below, we’ve compiled a cheat-sheet of holistic treatments and lifestyle changes to supplement your self-care routine and alleviate painful symptoms.
Diet and Exercise
Wow! Who would have guessed that a healthy diet, combined with physical activity, could have significant health benefits? Sarcasm aside, we would like to sincerely acknowledge the fact that implementing an exercise regimen is easier said than done, when dealing with a monthly appointment with debilitating pain, that sometimes makes it impossible to move. Depending on the severity of your condition, this advice should be taken with a grain of salt. However, if it’s possible, research supports the benefits of a regular exercise routine, combined with certain dietary changes.
What kind of exercise? Honestly, that’s up to you. High intensity workouts, like jogging, cycling, or swimming, allow for increased circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body, which lends to decreased estrogen production. Meanwhile, yoga and other low-intensity workouts stretch out the pelvic muscles (which tend to be sources of pain), reduce stress, and encourage mindfulness, which can be just as beneficial.
Additionally, studies, like this one, have found a correlation between vegetable-enriched diets and reduced risks for developing endometriosis. Similar research also reports increased risks associated with heavy consumption of red meat, presumably due to the high fat content, which contributes to a build-up of negative prostaglandins and estrogen in the body. The idea behind these dietary changes is to cut down on the consumption of “bad prostaglandins,” which can cause inflammation, along with increased estrogen production. An endometriosis-approved diet would look a little something like this:
rich in “immune system boosters” (i.e. carrots, leeks, garlic, ginger, green tea, and leafy greens, like kale—the ultimate “super food”),
25 grams of fiber (ideally from sources like legumes, quinoa, and brown rice),
and reduced consumption of alcohol, caffeine, refined carbs, red meats, and trans fats.
Positive Coping Mechanisms
There’s a mental toll that comes with living with endometriosis, which is why support systems like the Endometriosis Association emphasize the importance of developing healthy coping mechanisms. Be kind to yourself, practice self-care. For instance, don’t underestimate the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. This may sound obvious, but this recent study published by Human Reproduction found that women living with endometriosis are twice as likely to be affected by fatigue and insomnia. Gynecological experts, like the one cited in this article, recommend taking warm baths with epsom salts, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and muscle-relaxing properties.
Stress can also aggravate your symptoms, which is why we are emphasizing the importance of mental health. Breathing techniques, like autogenic training, condition your body to respond to verbal commands, allowing you to control your blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate.
These may seem like small, insignificant strategies—and perhaps they are, if your condition is severe enough—but enacting these small lifestyle changes have proven beneficial for certain individuals. It may take time, but you’ll learn what works best for your body, and what doesn’t. Call us optimists, but you have nothing to lose by experimenting with these different mental exercises.
Essentially, acupuncture is the practice of directing blood flow to correct imbalances in the body, and is a fairly popular treatment for a host of different pain-related conditions. For patients with endometriosis, acupuncturists concentrate their needlework primarily on the pelvic area or other affected areas, to reduce inflammation. This process also releases a chemical called norepinephrine, which naturally relaxes the body. Regular acupuncture sessions offer supplementary care to ease the symptoms of endometriosis and minimize the possibility of future flare-ups.
Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment
In a similar vein, OMT also offers an all-natural treatment to soothe your painful symptoms. Think of OMT as a form of advanced massage therapy, combined with a bit of stretching and gentle pressure applied to points of tension. Osteopathic physicians (DOs), understand the ins and outs of the musculoskeletal system, and how this network of muscles, nerves, and bones, work in tandem. OMT is mainly used to treat muscle pain, but has also been beneficial in treating menstrual cramping. Essentially, since OMT works to improve blood flow throughout the body, and correct muscle or tissue imbalances, this translates well to alleviating the symptoms of endometriosis.
To the women who have been recently diagnosed with the disease, we hope you find support from a welcoming community. We’ve included links to support groups for women living with endometriosis, where people share additional tips and their own personal experiences with the condition.
If you are a women’s health practitioner specializing in treating the symptoms of endometriosis, or other facets of reproductive health, you can create a free profile on Hezalia, so new patients can find your services! Quality women’s health and wellness products and practitioners can also be found at www.hezalia.com.
Hezalia: Be Seen.
Note: Hezalia is strictly an informational website about news and topics in women’s health. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed in this article are intended to spark a discussion about issues related to subjects in women’s health. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.