Endometriosis is a chronic, non-cancerous condition where cells that resemble the uterus lining, called endometrial cells, grow outside of the uterus. Because these cells are so similar to those found inside the womb, they respond in the same way to the body’s hormonal changes, and break down each month. As these cells have nowhere to go, this causes chronic inflammation and pain, and can lead to scarring of the pelvic organs, ultimately causing fertility problems.
Endometriosis is hugely debilitating and affects 1 in 10 women of a reproductive age in the UK, but despite this, it takes on average around 8 years to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis – something that urgently needs to change.
SYMPTOMS OF ENDOMETRIOSIS
One of the things that makes it challenging to diagnose endometriosis is that women can experience a wide range of symptoms, many of which are shared by other health conditions. However, being aware of what to look for is a good starting point for knowing when you should be seeking advice. Symptoms can include generalised pelvic pain, heavy and painful periods, pain during sexual intercourse, fatigue, bladder pain and pain opening the bowels, nausea, diarrhoea, and chest and leg pain.
It is also possible for women not to display any symptoms at all, and they may only find out they have endometriosis when they struggle to conceive.
DIAGNOSING & TREATING ENDOMETRIOSIS
If you recognise any of these symptoms, or you have been struggling to conceive, it’s well worth a visit to your GP. The Royal College of Nursing has produced an endometriosis fact sheet and checklist, so print off and complete the checklist and take it with you to your doctor.
While there is no definitive cure for endometriosis, it can be controlled by medical intervention through pain medication, hormonal drugs and – where necessary – surgery. If you are concerned that you may have endometriosis, it is important that you visit your doctor to discuss these options and see if they are right for you. There are also various home remedies you can try that may help to relieve the pain and discomfort of endometriosis.
TEN HOME REMEDIES FOR ENDOMETRIOSIS PAIN
- Heat: Placing a hot water bottle or heat pad on the lower abdomen often helps to relieve pain during menstruation, and taking 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 and found that using a heat pad was just as effective as taking ibuprofen for pain relief.
- Over-the-counter painkillers: 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 though, as it is not suitable for every woman.
- Turmeric: Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers in 2013 demonstrated that turmeric might inhibit estradiol, a form of oestrogen, which may help to prevent endometriosis developing any further. You can take turmeric as a supplement, and the spice can also be used in many recipes, including my Turmeric Latte.
- Dietary changes: Avoiding dairy, processed foods, and gluten may help to reduce the severity of endometriosis symptoms. Minimising how much red meat you eat, and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to improve your overall health. Some nutritionists recommend avoiding foods that tend to cause inflammation, but I would advise consulting a nutritionist or dietician directly to discuss making these changes.
- Light exercise: Regular exercise helps to release endorphins, and these feel-good chemicals can help with pain relief. Yoga, swimming, or walking are all good for easing inflammation and pain.
- Rest: Getting extra rest is very important, especially during your period. Try lying on your side with your knees hugged into your chest to help relieve pain or pressure in the back. Establishing a good sleep routine is also important, and make sure you sleep for around 8 hours a night.
- Herbal supplements: Certain herbs may help to reduce symptoms, however, there is currently limited research in this area. Consult a qualified medical herbalist to discuss how herbal treatments may help you.
- Vitamin supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce inflammation and are found naturally in fatty fish (such as salmon), or can be taken as a daily supplement. Vitamin D supplements may also help to improve symptoms of fatigue.
- Minimise stress: Endometriosis can cause a person to feel emotionally and physically drained. Consider getting some coaching to help you feel more positive and hopeful. Coaching also helps if you have endometriosis and are trying to conceive. Learning and practicing mindful meditation can also distract the mind from any pain and stress.
- 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.
GETTING HELP & ADVICE
If you have endometriosis it can feel extremely upsetting and overwhelming, but please know you aren’t alone. There are lots of great resources and organisations out there. Endometriosis UK is a charity that provides vital support services, reliable information and a community for those affected by endometriosis, and there’s plenty of social media groups set up to offer advice and a safe space for those living with endometriosis. You can also Get in touch with my clinic and we can assess you and advise on the next steps to take, and how best to manage your symptoms.
An inquiry report report published in 2020 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Endometriosis and Endometriosis UK provided recommendations on how care and support for those with endometriosis can be improved. You can read that report here. There’s also some great new research being undertaken on endometriosis, including this study into a pioneering drug treatment conducted by The University of Edinburgh
REFERENCES & FURTHER RESOURCES
Endometriosis: diagnosis and management NICE guideline [NG73], (September 2017). National Institute for health and Care Excellence. Available online: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng73
RCN Endometriosis Factsheet. Available online: https://www.rcn.org.uk/professional-development/publications/pub-007240
Endometriosis in the UK: time for change, APPG on Endometriosis (2020). Available online: https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/sites/endometriosis-uk.org/files/files/Endometriosis%20APPG%20Report%20Oct%202020.pdf
‘Endometriosis could be treated with cancer drug’, The University of Edinburgh, (February 2020). Available online: https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2019/endometriosis-could-be-treated-with-cancer-drug
Endometriosis UK, About Us. Available online: https://endometriosis-uk.org/about-us
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Davies (RN, BSc (Hons), FP Cert) is a fertility nurse consultant and IVF Coach who spent 20 years in the NHS as a specialist nurse and manger in sexual and reproductive healthcare before founding Your Fertility Journey: a support and advice service for women and couples who are struggling to conceive.