Endometriosis can be debilitating.
It is more than just period pain. But diagnosis can often take years and there are no real treatment options available.
What is endometriosis, exactly? Endometrial cells that usually grow inside the uterus start growing outside of the uterus, adhering to the wall of other organs such as bowels, diaphragm or fallopian tubes and uterus. The cells also react to the change in hormones during ovulation and start thickening, just as the endometrium growing inside the uterus, preparing for potential pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur the body naturally sheds the thickened endometrium during menstruation. The endometrial cells in other parts of the body have nowhere to go; causing inflammation, pain and, later on, scar tissue.
The pain of endometriosis often is not just limited to the time of the period. Other symptoms may include painful intercourse, pelvic pain, pain related to bowel movements and urination, as well as problems with conception or fatigue. Research indicates a genetic component in predisposition to endometriosis. It is also believed endometrial cells may enter the body cavities from retrograde bleeding through the fallopian tubes. This does not regularly present a problem, but in some women the immune system doesn’t keep them in check and allows the cells growth outside the uterus.
Diagnosis is usually confirmed with a laparoscopy; an examination of the pelvic organs with a small camera inserted under general anaesthetic. Often women are prescribed the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) to manage symptoms. The hormones prevent ovulation and therefore there is no thickening and no bleeding of endometrial cells within the pelvic cavity. The OCP is no treatment but can mask the symptoms, allowing women to lead a relatively pain-free and normal life.
However, this does not address the underlying imbalances, causing endometrial cells to grow outside of the uterus in the first place. Further, there are many concerns regarding long-term use of hormonal contraception. Side effects may include reduced libido, emotional problems and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, as well as nutrient deficiencies and elevated risk of some cancers. In her book The Fifth Vital Sign, Lisa Hendrickson-Jack has dedicated an entire chapter detailing these risks. I also I highly recommend her podcast to anyone interested in better understanding the risks of OCP in the management of endometriosis and other period related problems. I have linked two relevant episodes in the reference list.
Some women decide to undergo excision surgery – the cutting out of endometrial cells growing within the pelvic cavity – and often find relief from the symptoms of endometriosis for months or even years or, after a while, endometrial cells start growing back outside the uterus and may require further surgery. However, for some this is not a solution. Some will also undergo hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus. However, as the problem is not inside the uterus, this often does not resolve symptoms either. With all of these interventions, there is also the risk of anaesthetics and surgery in general to be considered.
We can no longer accept these shortcuts as solutions. Women deserve better health outcomes. Rather than masking underlying health issues, or going to the extreme of surgically removing an entire organ that is strongly related to female energy and emotions (I think I will need to write a post about this another time); women could choose to address their health concerns through acupuncture and herbal medicine.
What does Chinese medicine suggest? Chinese medicine does not treat endometriosis. Chinese medicine looks at why the body allows the cells to grow outside of the uterus where they do not belong. The immune system fails to recognise and respond to the endometrial cells. Chinese medicine with herbs and acupuncture helps balance the body and restore a healthy immune system with optimal hormonal function. It can also smooth the flow of energy and provide much-needed nourishment and restoration to the body.
How does this work? Chinese medicine has its own way of looking at the body. In endometriosis, there will most certainly be what we call blood stasis; literally blood not moving; in this case out of or within the pelvic cavity. It is stuck. Blood stasis always causes a lot of pain, often stabbing and excessive. This is often secondary and as a practitioner, I need to understand, what caused the blood to stagnate in your pelvis. Maybe a lot of stress and overwork caused the Qi, the bodily energy, to stagnate. Maybe there was some trauma. Or there is just generally not enough Qi. Like anything of substance, blood needs energy to move, and if this energy is lacking the movement can stop. Just as water can stop flowing if the pump breaks. There could be cold within the abdominal cavity; maybe from too much cold food or too much swimming in cold waters. There could also be too much heat; heat in Chinese medicine pertains to inflammation. But all these things could also just be this way from birth because of the energy given from the parents. There is no one to blame, just answers for healing to be found.
Treatment will always be based on an understanding of the personal situation of the patient. I will do an extensive consultation, including pulse and tongue diagnosis and put together your own personal treatment plan. While your healing process may take between three and 12 months; acupuncture is a great way to help manage symptoms right now. Therefore, in the process of bringing your body back to functioning as it is ought to; symptoms such as back pain, bloating and many more will be relieved and reduced.
Wherever you are in your journey, with acupuncture and herbal medicine we offer a holistic patient centred approach.
Endometriosis. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/endometriosis
Endometriosis and Immune System Dysfunction – Endometriosis News. (2019). Retrieved from https://endometriosisnews.com/endometriosis-and-immune-system-dysfunction/
Hendrickson-Jack, L. (2018). FFP 182 | Depression, Weight Gain & Mood Disorders | Pill Reality Series | Lisa & Lorena | Fertility Friday. Retrieved from http://fertilityfriday.com/episode-182/
Hendrickson-Jack, L. (2018). FFP 203 | The Pill Problem | Ross Pelton | Fertility Friday. Retrieved from http://fertilityfriday.com/ross-pelton/
Hendrickson-Jack, L. (2019). The Fifth Vital Sign (1st ed.). Fertility Friday Publishing Inc.
Maciocia, G. (2011). Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine (2nd ed.). Boston: Elsevier.