Endometriosis is a painful disorder that is characterized by tissue that behaves like the lining of the uterus but that grows outside the uterus. This tissue can be found in various places, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and pelvic lining, and even in or around the bladder and bowel.
Affecting around 1 in 10 women and girls in the United States, endometriosis can cause symptoms during the reproductive years, between the ages of 12 and 60. Many people with the condition remain undiagnosed.
The main symptom of the condition is pelvic pain typically associated with the menstrual period. While most women experience some cramping during their menstrual period, those with endometriosis describe pain that is worse than usual.
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatment options and lifestyle changes that can ease your symptoms so that the condition does not interfere with your day-to-day life. Here are Medical News Today's top five ways to cope with endometriosis.
1. Watch your diet
Eating the right foods may provide some protection against endometriosis. The role of diet in endometriosis has been investigated in recent years due to the influence of diet on some of the processes linked to the disease, such as inflammation, prostaglandin metabolism, and estrogen activity.
Pesticides and insecticides that can be ingested through certain nutrients have been suggested as a risk factor for endometriosis.
Increase fruit and vegetable intake
Research has uncovered a link between diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in red meat and the development of endometriosis.
A higher intake of fresh fruit and green vegetables reduced the relative risk of endometriosis by 40 percent, while a high consumption of beef, other red meat, and ham increased relative risk by around 80 to 100 percent.
Experts suggest that the high-fat content in red meats encourage the production of chemicals called prostaglandins in the body, which may result in more estrogen being produced. It could be these higher levels of estrogen that cause excess endometrial tissue growth.
Therefore, boosting the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet and reducing your intake of red meat could have a positive impact on your health.
Boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids
Researchers have also found that the type of fat included in your diet makes a difference in your risk of endometriosis.
One study showed that people whose diets were heavily laden with trans fats increased their risk of endometriosis by 48 percent when compared with individuals who ate the least of these.
By comparison, women whose diets were rich in omega-3 oils lowered their risk of endometriosis by 22 percent compared with those who consumed the least amount.
Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, may be helpful for endometriosis.
2. Work out regularly
Often, people who experience pain fear exercising, in case it causes more problems for them. But over time, regular physical activity may decrease the pain and discomfort that you feel.
Exercise may help those with endometriosis in many ways, including:
- encouraging the circulation of blood to your organs
- maintaining nutrients and oxygen flow to all your body systems
- decreasing estrogen production
- reducing stress
- releasing endorphins in the brain, which are pain-relieving, "feel good" chemicals
Women who regularly exercise are less likely to develop endometriosis. What is more, those who engage in frequent high-intensity physical activity are around 75 percent less likely to develop endometriosis than women who do not participate in regular strenuous activity.
High-intensity physical activity, such as running, swimming, and biking, may be beneficial for reducing your symptoms.
Low-intensity exercise, including yoga, may provide some relief in endometriosis, too. Yoga can stretch and strengthen your muscles, which may be beneficial for pelvic pain management and stress reduction.
3. Manage your stress levels
Endometriosis could contribute to making your stress levels skyrocket due to the impact that the painful symptoms have on all aspects of your life, including family and personal relationships and work.
Not only can stress be exacerbated by endometriosis, but so can endometriosis symptoms be exacerbated by stress, in a never-ending cycle.
You can try to manage stress by using relaxation techniques. These can help you to increase your awareness of your body, refocus on something calming, and reduce the activity of stress hormones.
Below are several types of relaxation techniques that you could try.
- Autogenic training. This method teaches your body to respond to verbal commands, which, in turn, tells your body to relax and control your breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, and body temperature.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique focuses on tensing and relaxing each muscle group to increase your awareness of your physical sensations and promote deep relaxation.
- Visualization. This relaxation method uses mental imagery to take a visual journey to a place or situation of peace.
- Deep breathing. This involves inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, with each breath deep enough that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
If you find that one relaxation technique does not work for you, try another. Finding the best technique for you can take time and practice.
4. Try alternative therapies
At present, there is not enough research to support alternative therapies for treating endometriosis. That being said, some women find symptom relief from using a range of different complementary and alternative medicines.
Osteopathic manipulative treatment
Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) involves an osteopathic physician using manipulation techniques, including stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance, to move your muscles and joints. OMT is used to ease pain, increase overall mobility, and promote healing.
While OMT is often used to treat muscle pain, it has also proven beneficial in other health problems, including menstrual pain.
Acupuncture could potentially help women with endometriosis. Acupuncture may interfere with pain pathways, induce the release of pain-relieving brain chemicals, promote anti-inflammatory effects, and deactivate brain areas linked with pain sensation.
Chinese herbal medicine
Chinese herbal medicine uses herbal ingredient preparations that are taken orally, through enema, or through injection. In China, herbal medicine is used to reduce pain, enhance fertility, and prevent the recurrence of endometriosis.
It is suggested that herbal medicine works by having an anti-inflammatory effect on endometrial cells.
Vitamins and dietary supplements
Speak to your doctor before trying out any alternative therapies, especially if you are taking other medications.
5. Consider medications
Your healthcare provider can provide you with a list of treatment options for endometriosis and outline the risks and benefits of each. They will take into account your age, your symptoms, whether you want to become pregnant, and any treatments that you have had previously.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
To help ease the pain associated with endometriosis, your doctor may suggest that you try an over-the-counter pain reliever such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen or naproxen.
Hormone therapy can help to slow down endometrial tissue growth, prevent new growth of endometrial tissue, and reduce or eliminate endometriosis-related pain.
Hormone therapies that your doctor may suggest include:
- birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings, to control the hormones responsible for endometrial tissue buildup
- gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists and antagonists, to block ovarian-stimulating hormone production, reduce estrogen levels, and halt menstruation
- a progestin-only contraceptive, contraceptive implant, or contraceptive injection, to prevent menstrual periods and endometrial implant growth
- danazol, to suppress the growth of the endometrium
Although all of these hormone therapies are effective at treating endometriosis, they all have different side effects.
If none of these steps help to manage your endometriosis symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery. The approach that you and your doctor choose to take will vary depending on your signs and symptoms, and whether or not you would like to become pregnant in the future.
Before starting any treatment, it is important to know all of your options and the potential outcomes of them.