Endometriosis is a condition where cells, similar in nature to the ones present in the lining of the womb, are found elsewhere in the body, often in the pelvic and abdominal areas such as the abdomen, bladder and bowel.
Every month during menstruation these cells respond in a similar way to those in the lining of the womb do during ovulation and menstruation. Each cycle, hormones are released which encourages the lining of the womb to thicken in preparation for an egg released from the ovaries and becoming fertilised (conception) – if the egg is not fertilised, the womb lining breaks down and is shed through monthly menstruation. The endometrial cells also bleed but, unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body from the vagina during a period, the endometrial cells outwith the womb have no way of leaving the body. This can cause inflammation, pain and the formation of scar tissue.
The symptoms of Endometriosis include:
- pain in the lower abdomen or back, which is worse during menstruation
- period pain that prevents or impacts on day to day activities
- pain during or after sex
- pain during bowel movements and when urinating, specifically during menstruation
- feelings of nausea, sickness, changes in bowel movements (constipation, diarrhoea) or blood in urine specifically during menstruation
- fertility difficulties (difficulty in becoming pregnant)
Conventional treatments include NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and paracetamol for pain management and inflammation, hormone treatments (oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, hormone replacement therapy) and surgery.
Menstruation is a natural female function, beginning at puberty and ending at menopause, which is bafflingly still somewhat of a taboo subject to talk about, so when our periods cause pain, insomnia, frustration and physical, mental and emotional fatigue, impacting on our day to day lives, it is very easy to see how there is a general lack of interest and empathetic understanding of the challenges that women with endometriosis often face.
Endometriosis a chronic (long term) and often debilitating condition that is often a lead cause in fertility difficulties – almost 40% of women with moderate to severe endometriosis have difficulty becoming pregnant – and often presents bowel and bladder problems. It is not only the physical symptoms that make endometriosis difficult to live with; there is also the mental and emotional strain that comes with living with a chronic condition, which can be incredibly demanding and draining. Depression, anxiety and stress related disorders, feelings of isolation and difficulties in sexual relationships are common.
Gentle exercise, regular eating patterns with plenty of protein, healthy fats (nuts, avocadoes, unrefined coconut oil), fresh fruits and vegetables, and vitamin and mineral supplements are a great start. Often with heavy menstrual periods, there is an increased risk of a loss of iron and other essential nutrients and this can often be a cause of fatigue. It is always worthwhile to talk to your GP about regular blood tests after receiving an endometriosis diagnosis.
Stress is something that we live with each day. Often when we are under undue levels of stress, it becomes a normal state of being; we become used to a state of hyper alertness, never seeing its detrimental effects until we find it difficult to fulfil the responsbilities we have every day. If you have endometriosis, it is useful to assess your lifestyle and identify areas of stress with the intention of reducing them.
Keeping A Diary
It is often easy to forget from one month to the next what your physical, mental and emotional experiences were of your last period so it is useful to document your menstrual cycle and any pain or discomfort, increased/reduced blood flow, emotions and thoughts you experience each month. This way you have a greater awareness and understanding of any changes over the months. If you are being supported by a therapist or healthcare professional, it also gives you the opportunity to share these experiences, allowing your therapist greater insight and the opportunity to adapt your treatment plan as appropriate.
The Flourish Endometriosis Diary is a free download for you to print out and copy for your own personal use and includes pain charts so that you can describe the types of pain you feel during your period and at other times of the month, where in your body you feel the pain and what impact the symptoms have on your daily activities.
Holistic Approaches to Endometriosis
Holistic approaches to endometriosis encourage self awareness and can help immensely with self care and supporting you in the management of your own health by considering you as a whole person and not just the condition.
Complementary and alternative therapies can also help reduce the pain and symptoms associated with endometriosis. A study conducted in 2015 by the Department of Midwifery at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences* showed that both Aromatherapy Massage and Reflexology reduced pain intensity and duration of primary dysmenorrhea (period pain and menstrual cramps) and the study considered both therapies to be a suitable non-pharmacological method for reducing primary dysmenorrhea.
Gentle abdominal massage can help release muscular tension and improve blood circulation and lymph flow to the areas that are affected by pain. Full body massage is also beneficial as it helps to encourage relaxation and stress relief. Sometimes it can feel that we are labelled by the health conditions we live with but Massage and Aromatherapy can often give us a greater appreciation for our physical body, supporting a positive self image.
Reflexology can help encourage our natural healing processes by pinpointing specific areas that are reflected in our feet, such as the womb, ovaries, bladder and bowel. Reflexology can also help our bodies self regulate its systems, including the endocrine system which is responsible for our hormone levels and includes our adrenal glands and ovaries. It can also help our bodies naturally balance blood sugar and energy levels and can be particularly effective in increasing energy and improving sleep. A recent study** showed that regular Reflexology sessions were effective at reducing pain, fatigue and insomnia.
Reiki is a natural, non invasive healing system which affects positive change to our energy fields. We are all electromagnetic. Our lifestyle choices, thoughts, feelings and past experiences can all affect our energy and can often create blockages preventing a smooth, balanced flow of energy.
Energy therapies such as Reiki and Crystal Therapy can nurture us, physically, mentally and emotionally. Physically, they can be used throughout our menstrual cycle to help support our body’s natural processes. Mentally and emotionally, they can help us approach chronic conditions with a calm mind and an open, commpassionate heart.
Appointments for all of Flourish’s holistic therapies are available to book online or by contacting me using the form below.
Sources and Further Information
A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Lee, Jeongsoon1·Han, Misook2·Chung, Younghae3·Kim, Jinsun4·Choi, Jungsook5