Endometriosis is a condition present in 30% of infertility cases. How and why it affects fertility and what treatment options there are the topics we’re exploring today.
What Is Endometriosis?
The uterus is lined with a layer of tissue called the endometrium. Endometrial tissue normally grows only inside the uterus. However, when the tissue grows outside the uterus – for example in the reproductive organs, intestines, rectum or bladder, it is called endometriosis. It is a benign (non-cancerous) but potentially very painful condition.
What Are The Causes?
The causes of endometriosis are still not known and there is no simple cure. Estimates of how common it is range from 1-15% of women of reproductive age. As yet there is no single theory explaining why some women develop the condition. Some experts suggest that during menstruation, endometrial tissue "backs up" through the fallopian tubes and then settles and grows in the abdomen. However, there others that believe that all women experience menstrual tissue back-up. In most cases, the immune system automatically destroys abnormal tissue before it attaches in the abdomen. But if the immune system is unable to get rid of the misplaced tissue, endometriosis may develop.
What Are The Symptoms?
Some women have no symptoms and others may experience one or more warning signs that can range from mild to severe. The type and severity of the symptoms can depend on where the endometriosis has implanted, how deeply, and how long a woman has had it. Common symptoms may include:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Very painful periods
- Deep pain during sexual intercourse
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
- Pain during ovulation
- Heavy or abnormal menstrual flow, such as premenstrual spotting
- Painful bowel movements, diarrhoea, constipation or other intestinal upsets during menstruation
- Painful or frequent urination during menstruation
How Does it Affect Fertility?
Endometriosis is found in 30% of women who suffer infertility and can cause infertility in different ways.
If the endometriosis damages the tubes and ovaries then this will significantly reduce your ability to conceive, as it will alter the movement of the egg and sperm.
Even if the tubes and ovaries are not damaged then the endometriosis can affect the movement of sperm, egg pick-up by the tube, egg fertilisation, embryo growth and implantation.
Endometriosis can cause the fallopian tubes to become blocked and can damage the ovaries. It is estimated to be the cause of infertility in 3% of couples, and is one of the factors behind tubal problems that cause infertility for about 17% of couples.
However, evidence suggests even if your endometriosis is severe, you may still have a chance of falling pregnant naturally; it depends on how the disease has affected your reproductive organs. If you know you have endometriosis and you are having problems falling pregnant it is vital to consult a healthcare professional sooner rather than later.
What Treatment Options are Available?
There are many treatment options available to those who suffer from endometriosis. The goal is to provide pain relief, to restrict progression of the process, and to restore or preserve fertility where needed.
Depending on the severity of the condition, a simple dietary change may be all that is required or in the more severe cases, surgery or hormone drugs are often prescribed. There are however, a number of viable natural treatment options that you may consider that aim to treat the cause as well as control the symptoms
This ancient practice involves the insertion of thin needles at various points in the skin. This is said to bring relief by restoring the balance and “energy flow” of our bodies.
Research has shown acupuncture to be an effect treatment for the pain of endometriosis. Whilst more studies are needed to show its effectiveness as a cure, acupuncture always looks at treating the cause, rather than just the symptoms alone.
Naturopaths use a combination of diet and nutrition, herbal remedies and vitamin/mineral supplements to target the cause and re-balancing the body to reduce, if not remove symptoms.
Dietary changes may be advised such as:
- Reducing animal fats, especially high-fat dairy, red meat and fish. These animal fats contain dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) which have been associated with endometriosis.
- There is also evidence that certain diets promoting anti-inflammatory foods can promote hormonal balance and reduce symptoms.
Excess levels of oestrogen have been linked with endometriosis. Herbs said to be helpful in relieving endometriosis include blue cohosh, cranberry, plantain, St. John's wort, peppermint, valerian, dong quai, false unicorn, evening primrose oil, vitex, black cohosh, uva ursi, couchgrass, red raspberry, yam, and white willow.
Aromatherapy Massage utilises essential oils extracted from plants. Some oils have been found to have anti-viral, anti-fungal and even anti-bacterial properties. Effective oils for endometriosis include sage, cypress, fennel, bergamot and geranium.
Areas concentrated on include primarily the lumbar spine and the thoracic spine area, which also has beneficial effects on the immune system, long thought to be involved in the basis of endometriosis.
Here at Live Well we have a variety of practitioners that will be able to offer you support and advise to help you gain control of endometriosis. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us for more information.