The Office on Women’s Health estimates that more than 11% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States have endometriosis. In other words, about 1 in every 10 women has a condition that causes the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, to grow outside of the uterus. It may grow on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, the tissues that hold your uterus in place, or on the outer surface of your uterus.
The most common symptom, and the one that you’re probably most familiar with, is pain. You may have:
- Excessively painful menstrual cramps
- Lower back pain
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
- Pain after sex
- Pain during bowel movements
- Pain when you urinate
- Intestinal pain
In addition, you may have bleeding or spotting between periods, digestive issues, or infertility.
The reason for the pain
The endometrium inside your uterus swells and bleeds each month as part of your normal cycle. When you have endometriosis, the same thing happens, but since some of the lining is outside your uterus, where it’s not supposed to be, problems and pain happen.
The blood can’t get out of your body as it’s supposed to, and you may develop ovarian cysts, scar tissue that causes pain, or problems with other organs like your intestines.
Living with endometriosis
There’s no known cure for endometriosis, and the available treatments may not be suitable for you. For example, if you’re trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control, the most common treatment, won’t be helpful.
Over the counter medication may be helpful, and there are alternative treatments that help some women find relief. There are a few other approaches that may be helpful for you, as well.
Given the fact that endometriosis is painful, you may not even want to think about exercise. However, regular workouts can help improve your circulation, which may help with endometriosis pain. It also decreases estrogen production, reduces stress, and releases so-called “feel good” chemicals in your brain.
If you can’t imagine doing a full workout, start with something manageable. Maybe a five or ten minute walk is within your capability. Wherever you start, the important thing is to keep it up and increase your activity level slowly.
There’s evidence that women who participate in high-intensity exercise regularly are much less likely to develop endometriosis. Lower-intensity exercise, such as yoga, may be beneficial as well.
Endometriosis causes stress and stress makes endometriosis worse, in a vicious cycle. The advice to lower your stress levels may make you want to shout, “HOW?” There are a few things that may be helpful.
Exercise is a stress-reliever, so you get all kinds of different benefits from regular exercise.
Progressive relaxation is a simple technique to learn that involves tensing then relaxing your muscles one at a time, slowly. It helps you focus on physical sensations and helps you relax.
Breathing exercises are sometimes similar to progressive relaxation, and also result in relaxation. The idea is to focus narrowly on breathing, how the air coming into your body feels, what happens as you exhale. You may find it helpful to count as you inhale, then exhale for the same amount of time.
Reconsider your diet
There seems to be some link between endometriosis and a diet that is rich in red meat and low in fresh fruits and vegetables. In other words, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables could be helpful.
Even if you aren’t interested in going fully plant-based, simply increasing the number of servings of fruits and vegetables you consume daily may be helpful.
If you’d like to learn more about living with endometriosis, book an appointment with Dr. Neyman today. She’s happy to discuss your specific situation with you and make suggestions tailored to your unique circumstances.