Endometriosis and Its Impact on Fertility Problems Can be Treated Conventionally and with Eastern Medicine
Endometriosis affects about 10 percent of women, making it one of the most common causes of menstrual-related pain and infertility. In some women, symptoms are mild or may not even be present. In many, though, endometriosis-related pain is severe enough to impact the patient’s quality of life. Further, endometriosis can interfere with egg implantation, making it more difficult to get pregnant. For this reason, it’s common for women to be diagnosed with endometriosis only after seeing their doctor for fertility problems.
There’s good news and bad news with the condition. The bad news: Endometriosis cannot be cured. The good news: It can be treated effectively if the right therapies are matched to the patient. In some cases, that means a combination of western and eastern modalities.
How Does Endometriosis Present in the Body?
Endometriosis is characterized by the presence of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. In most cases, endometriosis involves the ovaries (about 2/3 of patients), but it may also involve the fallopian tubes, bladder, vagina, or organs outside of the pelvic area.
Endometrial tissue is what lines the uterus and it’s responsible for secreting a mix of proteins and lipids – nourishment for an implanted egg and embryo. This secretion is part of menstruation.
If this process occurs outside of the uterus, it can cause a range of symptoms, though the principal sign is pain. In women with endometriosis, pain tends to be worst during menstruation and during intercourse. Severe pain may also occur during urination or a bowel movement (this is more likely during menstruation).
In addition to pain, endometriosis may also present with the following symptoms:
- Heavier bleeding during a period
- Bleeding between periods
- Constipation or diarrhea
It’s common for the symptoms of endometriosis to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so it can be particularly difficult to diagnose in patients with IBS.
It’s also common for women to be diagnosed with endometriosis when seeking treatment for infertility. This isn’t a surprise, as endometriosis is one of the most common reasons for infertility. In fact, among women with fertility issues, up to 50 percent suffer from endometriosis to some degree.
Western Treatment Options for Endometriosis
Among allopathic doctors, endometriosis is treated with either medication or surgery. If not treated, the condition can make it difficult for a fertilized egg to reach the uterine wall and properly attach. Researchers also believe that the condition affects fertility in other ways, as it may damage the egg as well.
While physicians prefer to avoid surgery when possible, the only way to reliably confirm endometriosis is to see the affected area and note the presence of endometrial tissues. Biopsies are also needed for diagnosis, and this can only be done via surgery. As such, one potential treatment option – if endometriosis is severe or if cancer needs to be ruled out – is to perform surgery and either excise or ablate the tissue.
However, doctors will generally opt for more conservative treatments first. Medication is a frontline choice and may include the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
- Birth control medication, for women not trying to get pregnant
- Gonadotropin releasing hormone medications (GNRHs). There are many GNRHs available, but the most common is leuprolide. These medications work by acting on centrally mediated hormones produced by the pituitary gland. GNRHs stimulate the pituitary to release follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which is then used to regulate the production of sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
- Aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase inhibitors work by blocking the conversion of hormones into estrogen, thereby reducing estrogen levels in the body.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and birth control medication may be sufficient for mild instances of endometriosis. GNRHs and aromatase inhibitors are reserved for more severe cases, as they come with concerning side effects. This is especially true of aromatase inhibitors, which can result in permanent bone density loss and osteoporosis if used for too long.
How Chinese Medicine Can Help Resolve Endometriosis Symptoms
Although effective treatments exist for endometriosis, it can be difficult to individualize treatment. As such, many women seek additional support through alternatives like eastern medicine. In particular, acupuncture and some herbal mixtures are used to treat the condition.
There are a handful of medical and case studies that show a promising link between acupuncture and improving endometriosis symptoms. It’s possible that acupuncture’s efficacy with endometriosis is due to:
- Acupuncture’s ability to improve blood flow. Acupuncture stimulates the body’s own healing processes in several ways. One way is to regulate blood flow to the pelvic organs and reduce stagnation or excessive bleeding.
- Acupuncture’s ability to regulate hormones. Acupuncture is used in many conditions where an underlying hormonal cause is present. Because it can help balance out hormone levels, acupuncture can reduce the impact of menstruation-related symptoms and help reduce the presence of endometrial tissue.
- Acupuncture’s ability to reduce pain. Acupuncture is a proven pain reliever for many conditions, including menstruation pain. Researchers believe this is due to how acupuncture stimulates the nervous system. When acupuncture needles are inserted, they cause the body to release endorphins and other mood and health-boosting biochemicals. This can bring pain levels down.
There are also herbal formulas that Houston eastern medicine practitioners use to improve endometriosis symptoms. One effective formula is Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang, which is used to improve slow blood flow. This herbal formula includes ginger and Gui Zhi, otherwise known as cinnamon or cassia twig. These warming herbs are a frontline choice for endometriosis and any condition that involves blood flow dysregulation.
Endometriosis May Not Be Curable, but it is Manageable with the Right Therapies
Endometriosis is a primary cause of fertility issues, and it can also cause chronic, severe pain. And while the condition cannot be cured, its symptoms and the fertility problems it does cause can be treated. Various medications are effective in many patients and surgery can help in debilitating cases.
Another option that patients are turning to is eastern medicine. Acupuncture and herbal formulas have both been shown to improve the pain, excessive bleeding and fertility issues arising from endometriosis. As such, an increasing number of doctors are recommending eastern medicine as an adjunct option for their endometriosis patients.