Endometriosis is a common reproductive disorder that may cause pelvic pain, discomfort with intercourse and is associated with infertility. It occurs when cells that are similar to the tissue that grows inside the uterine cavity grow outside of the uterus and attach to the internal lining or organs in the abdominal cavity region. Pain occurs due to several mechanisms including the shedding of the endometriosis cells that trigger the release of prostaglandins that cause cramping, inflammation, and formation of endometriomas (cysts within the ovaries) as well as scar tissue. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, intestines/ bowels are common areas for endometriosis to occur. Over 8.5 million women in North America and 176 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
Initially, endometriosis may be mistaken for severe but “normal” cramps (sometimes throughout the menstrual cycle), or urologic or gastrointestinal conditions. But once these symptoms become chronic or impact the quality of life, treatment options should be explored.
Whether you have been experiencing endometriosis symptoms or pain for months or for years, many pain-reducing treatment options exist. Types of treatment range from medical and surgical to drug-free and alternative. Each of these treatment options, or a combination of, may ease chronic pain resulting from endometriosis.
Surgical and Hormonal Treatments
While the diagnosis of endometriosis can be suspected based on symptoms, confirmation can only be made through visualization of the lesions, which requires surgery. The most common surgical procedure used to assess the pelvic organs is laparoscopy (LSC), a minimally invasive procedure performed under anesthesia. During the procedure, a thin viewing tube is passed through the umbilicus (belly button) into the abdominal cavity. If endometriosis tissue is found, it can be removed. A laparoscopy is the most common surgical treatment for endometriosis, according to the New York Times Health Guide. If endometriosis is more severe, a laparotomy may be needed. In the most severe cases of endometriosis, a hysterectomy may be suggested as a final alternative once child bearing has been completed. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of endometriosis cases will not result in a hysterectomy. The Reproductive Medicine Group provides both medical and surgical treatments, with goals to decrease pain and increase probability of pregnancy.
Since hormonal treatments tend to decrease probability of pregnancy, they may not be ideal treatment options for some women. Hormonal treatments include contraceptives such as birth control pills or patches. Also, progesterone and progestin received through pills, injections, or IUDs (intrauterine devices), or drugs such as danazol, to halt the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, are options. Estrogen-decreasing drugs such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists encourage the body to mimic menopause.
Alternative and Drug-Free Treatments
A TENS electrotherapy (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit generates an electric current (through electrodes) and can be a rapid source of relief. Herbs, such as peppermint, white willow, and evening primrose oil, contain pain-decreasing elements for endometriosis pain. Physical therapy for endometriosis includes treatments performed manually by a physical therapist, and exercises to strengthen and stretch the pelvic muscles. Massage techniques can reduce pelvic pain and decrease stress levels as well. Acupuncture, which can decrease pain with the release of endorphins, has also been shown to be an effective treatment option. A diet with limited refined carbohydrates, processed foods, sugar, red meat, and caffeine, and exercise, which is known to decrease pain, are simple alternative treatments, and benefit the body overall.
Many women worry that endometriosis equals infertility, but that is not always the case. In fact, 65% of women with endometriosis are able to conceive when they seek treatment, according to the Endometriosis Research Center.
Endometriosis is a painful condition that can diminish the quality of life, but with many treatment options, both medical and drug-free, a pain-free and fertile future is possible.
The Reproductive Medicine Group has been serving the Tampa Bay area for more than 30 years. With offices in North and South Tampa, Brandon and Clearwater, they have helped thousands of couples overcome their infertility and achieve their dream of becoming parents. For more information on endometriosis treatment options, please contact us by filling out our online form or by calling us at 813-914-7304.