March is International Endometriosis Awareness Month and it is so important to take this opportunity to increase awareness and highlight the symptoms of this debilitating condition that affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide.
Endometriosis is a chronic, non-cancerous condition where cells that resemble the uterus lining, called endometrial cells, grow outside the uterus. This causes chronic inflammation and pain and can lead to scarring of the organs of the pelvis, causing fertility problems.
It is difficult to establish how many people have endometriosis because the condition often goes undiagnosed. Approximately 1 in 10 women in the UK and in the United States have endometriosis, making it the second most common gynaecological condition.
The Stages of endometriosis
There are four stages of endometriosis and if you receive a diagnosis, you will be categorised into one of the following four stages. The stages are defined based on how much endometrial tissue is present and how deeply it has grown into the woman’s organs.
The four stages are:
Stage 1. Minimal. A woman with stage 1 endometriosis only has small amounts of the tissue growing, and it is only found on the surface or around the organs.
Stage 2. Mild. A woman with stage 2 endometriosis has more extensive tissue growths, but they are still on the surface of the organs rather than inside them.
Stage 3. Moderate. A woman with stage 3 endometriosis has more widespread tissue, which has begun to grow inside the pelvic organs.
Stage 4. Severe. A woman with stage 4 endometriosis has lots of endometrial tissue, which is growing inside several of the pelvic organs.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Women can experience a wide range of symptoms. These can include generalised pelvic pain, heavy and painful periods, pain during sexual intercourse, fatigue, bladder pain, nausea, diarrhoea and leg pain.
Why do you experience pelvic pain with endometriosis?
During a period, the uterus lining sheds and leaves the body through the vagina. This happens in response to changing hormone levels. When endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, the cells still shed, but they cannot leave the body, causing painful symptoms.
This can cause pain experienced at the time of urination and opening the
bowels, pain in the vagina when having sex and leg pain where the endometrial cells bleed on to the nerves in the pelvis.
While there is no absolute cure for endometriosis it can be controlled by medical intervention. If you are concerned that you may have
it is important that you see your doctor. There are various home remedies you can try to help in relieving the pain and discomfort of endometriosis.
Home remedies for endometriosis pain
Placing a hot water bottle or heat pad on the lower abdomen often helps to relieve pain during menstruation.
Warm baths can help to relax cramping pelvic muscles.
A study in 2001 tested the effectiveness of heat pads on 81 women with painful periods. It found that using a heat pad was as effective as ibuprofen for pain relief.
2. Pelvic massage
A 2010 study found that massaging the pelvic area, including parts of the abdomen, sides, and back, was helpful in reducing menstrual pain associated with endometriosis. You can find out more about pelvic and fertility massage here.
3. Over-the-counter pain analgesia
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be effective at
reducing the pain associated with endometriosis. Talk to your doctor before self-administrating ibuprofen as it is not suitable for every woman.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers in 2013 showed that turmeric might inhibit estradiol, a form of estrogen. This may help to prevent growths.
Turmeric supplements are available and the spice can be used in many recipes. Take a look at my Turmeric Latte here.
5. Dietary changes
Avoiding dairy, processed foods, and gluten may help to reduce the severity of symptoms. Minimising the consumption of red meat and increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to improve overall health.
Some nutritionists recommend avoiding foods that tend to cause inflammation and I would advise consulting a nutritionist to discuss making these changes.
6. Light exercise
Regular exercise helps to release endorphins and these hormones can help with pain relief.
Exercise, such as yoga, swimming, or walking can help to ease inflammation and pain.
Getting extra rest is very important, especially during your period. Try lying on your side with your knees hugged into the chest to help relieve pain or pressure in the back.
Ensure that you have a good sleep routine and sleep for 8 hours a night.
8. Herbal supplements
Herbs may help to reduce symptoms, however, there is currently limited research in
this area. Consult a qualified herbalist to discuss how herbs may help you.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce inflammation. They are naturally found in fatty fish, such as salmon or as a daily supplement. Vitamin D supplements may also help to improve symptoms of fatigue.
10. Emotional support to minimise stress
Endometriosis can cause a person to feel emotionally and physically drained. Consider coaching to help you feel more positive and hopeful. Coaching also helps if you are trying to conceive with endometriosis. Learn and practice mindful meditation, to help distract the mind from pain and stress.
11. Increase your fluids
Stay hydrated, as dehydration can intensify inflammation and pain throughout the whole body. Drink at least 3 litres of water every day and avoid caffeine and alcohol.