I’ve talked about cramps a lot on this blog, but today I’m going to talk about what may be the worst form of cramps, which is endometriosis (and which affects about 1 in 10 menstruators!).
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month so this is a great time to explain a bit about it and hopefully help you determine if you might be someone who should look into getting this addressed with a care provider.
What is it?
Essentially the endometrial tissue, which is the lining of your uterus that gets shed off each cycle with your period, grows outside the uterus in your abdominal cavity. This causes excess pain and abdominal issues due to tissue being in the wrong place in your body. Perhaps Freud’s idea of the wandering uterus is true!
In all seriousness though, periods should not be painful. It’s a myth in our society that pain is normal. In fact, it’s a sign that there is some kind of hormonal imbalance that needs to be addressed. Some sensation or uncomfortableness is okay, but if you can’t function without drugs then something is wrong. See my article here about some great ways to address and improve cramps.
Endometriosis is now considered an autoimmune disease, and those with endo often have other autoimmune diseases (for example, headaches, allergies, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and more). You can see research and read more about what this means here. There is often excess estrogens and prostaglandins (resulting from excess endometrial tissues) so anything that works to improve the hormone balance in your body will have a positive effect. See more below.
You can also check out a documentary that’s been made called Endo What?
So is endometriosis just menstrual cramps? Nope, it’s far more. People with endometriosis often experience a whole list of pain and abdominal issues, and not just during their period. This list comes from the Endometriosis Network of Canada:
- Disabling or increasingly painful menstrual cycles
- Pelvic pain at any time of the cycle/ chronic pelvic pain
- Pain with intercourse
- Back or leg pain during menstruation
- Gastrointestinal symptoms:
- Constipation, diarrhea, or cycling between the two
- Abdominal bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Painful bowel movement
- Bladder symptoms:
- Bladder pain
- Urinary urgency
- Urinary frequency
- Pain with urination
- Fertility issues
- Recurrent pregnancy loss
As you can see, this is far more than needing a few ibuprofen during your period!
Unfortunately there is no simple test for endometriosis. Currently, the only way to know for sure is with what’s called a laparoscopy, or when they insert a tube into your abdomen. But there’s some good news on the horizon! A blood test is being developed that could give you results in one day! Let’s hope that happens soon.
In the meantime, if you experience any of the above symptoms there’s a good chance you have endometriosis. If you want to know for sure you can certainly get a laparoscopy, but even if you don’t know for sure you can still benefit from a lot of the treatments that are used to reduce pain.
There’s a great book I recommend if you are dealing with endo, suspected or confirmed (this book even helps for regular menstrual cramps!), called Endometriosis: a key to healing through nutrition. As with all things hormone related, which you may have noticed by now through reading my blog, so much of our health depends on nutrition! Please read this book and implement the nutritional changes suggested to help with your pain.
Other conventional treatment would include surgery to remove the lesions. This is a great idea, so long as they don’t grow back, and they often do, which is why treating the whole body and the immune system through nutrition is so important.
Other treatment would be hormonal, usually through birth control pills, to suppress the growth of the endometrium. Now while I’m all about going natural with health, I also completely understand the desire to prevent the horrible pain! My recommendation would be to follow all the nutritional recommendations, even if you are on the pill, because everything you do would be helpful in addressing the underlying imbalance in your body and helping your immune system. You could then try coming off the pill at some point, knowing that your are doing your best to address your health at the root of the problem, and see how it goes and know that you can make a difference and you can heal your immune system with the right support and health care providers on your team.
Thankfully, endometriosis is being recognized more and more as a real issue that needs to be addressed (i.e. we’re not just silly women and it’s not all in our heads) and the natural treatments that truly get to the root of the problem (i.e. not just treating symptoms, but really figuring it out) are recognized by advocacy groups like the Endometriosis Network of Canada.
What can you do?
If you suspect you have endometriosis definitely discuss it with a doctor, Naturopath, Chinese Medicine practitioner, nutritionist, and anyone else on your healthcare team. There are also patient advocacy groups, networks, and organizations that you can get involved with, and finding a support group may be helpful too (here’s a link to in-person groups in Canada and online. Also check out your country or region online to see what’s available). Read as much as you can (check out my book recommendation) to see what nutrition and lifestyle changes may help you.
It often takes ten years of complaints before it’s diagnosed, and many people think it doesn’t happen in younger menstruators but it can. If you are suffering speak up and take action. You can make a difference and you can get to the root of the problem. It does take time and patience, but you don’t need to suffer in silence and you can improve your quality of life.
Are you suffering with menstrual pain or suspected endometriosis? Contact me or sign up to one of my programs and I can support you with lifestyle changes to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life!