What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis refers to a condition in which endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus, implants and grows outside the uterus. It is a common gynaecological disease, and is believed to affect approximately 10% of women at some stage during their menstruating years. 30-50% of cases of infertility are believed to be caused by endometriosis.
In endometriosis, the migrant endometrial cells may settle in many various areas. They can stick to the ovaries or the ligaments that support the uterus, or settle in the pouch of Douglas (the area between the uterus and the rectum). The cells can also become attached to the fallopian tubes, the vagina, the vulva, the bladder and the bowel. In some rare cases, they may be found in the eyes, the brain, the lungs, or in old surgical scars on the abdomen.
The displaced endometrial patches act like the normal endometrial tissue lining inside the uterus, growing with estrogen stimulation and bleeding during menstruation, but without any outlet of leaving the body. This may causes inflammation, adhesions (fibrous scar tissue) and leads to pain, swelling and sometimes damage to the fallopian tubes or ovaries, causing fertility problems.
What can cause endometriosis?
The causes of endometriosis are not fully known, but there are several theories:
- Retrograde menstruation – the most common theory is that endometriosis is caused by a back-flow of blood through the fallopian tubes during a woman’s period instead of through the cervix. The endometrial cells embed themselves onto the tissues or organs of the pelvis.
- Genetics – endometriosis is sometimes believed to be hereditary, being passed down through the genes of family members.
- Spreading through the bloodstream or lymphatic system – endometrial cells are sometimes believed to enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, although it is not known how. This theory could explain how, in very rare cases, the cells are found in remote places such as the eyes or lungs.
- Metaplasia – the process of one type of cell changing into another to adapt to its new environment. It is this development that allows the human body to grow in the uterus before birth. It has been suggested that some adult cells retain the ability they had as an embryo to change into endometrial cells.
- Immune dysfunction – the body’s immune system attacks the endometrium that is growing outside the uterus and causes inflammation. The body cannot distinguish between endometrium growing inside or outside the uterus and so a hostile environment occurs in the entire pelvic cavity.
Symptoms of endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that causes painful or heavy periods. It often causes pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen or lower back. It may also lead to lack of energy, depression and infertility.
The symptoms of endometriosis vary from person to person. Some women suffer from pain all the time, while others only have pain during their periods, when they have sex or when they go to the toilet. How severe the symptoms are depends mostly on where in your body the endometriosis is, rather than the amount of endometriosis you have. A small amount of tissue in a certain area can be as painful as, or more painful than, a large amount in another. Some women may have few symptoms or no symptoms at all.
The most common symptoms include:
- Intense or persistent period pain
- Pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen or lower back that worsens during periods
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding or clotting
There is a strong association between endometriosis and infertility. It is thought that scar tissue and adhesions may obstruct or distort the shape of the fallopian tubes and prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. Endometriosis may also affect fertility by causing hormonal irregularities, and can also increase the chance of early miscarriage.
Pregnancy sometimes reduces the symptoms of endometriosis, although symptoms often return once the menstrual cycle returns to normal.
Other symptoms may include:
- Discomfort when urinating
- Rectal bleeding and pain during bowel movements (if the endometrial tissue is in the intestines)
- Coughing blood (if the endometrial tissue is in the lung)
- Stress and anxiety as a result of knowing of their upcoming period will bring pain and discomfort
Endometriosis can only be diagnosed with an examination called a laparoscopy, which is carried out by a gynaecologist to check for any endometrial implants, adhesions or cysts in your abdomen.
How TCM may help
From the perspective of TCM, endometriosis is the result of the slowdown and stasis of blood flow in the pelvis, brought about either by blocked energy in the pathways of the body or by insufficient energy to push the blood through the vessels. This sluggishness in blood flow can be caused by a number of factors such as poor digestion, weakness in certain parts of the body, especially the kidneys (which in Chinese medicine thought support the whole reproductive system), stress and tension, the habitual consumption of cold foods or overwork especially during menstruation, genital infections and surgical history.
Five common patterns of endometriosis include:
- Qi stagnation and blood stasis
- Kidney deficiency and blood stasis
- Cold retention and blood stasis
- Qi deficiency and blood stasis
- Heat obstruction and blood stasis.
Signs of blood stasis include stabbing pain that is fixed in one place, frequent or heavy bleeding, and bleeding with dark purple clots. Chronic stagnation causes clots, which can have a tendency to manifest themselves as masses or lumps.
Acupuncture may improve the function of the immune system and increase the flow of energy through the meridians in the body. It has been found that acupuncture treatment promotes the release of endorphins and other ‘healing’ chemicals in the body. Both acupuncture and herbs can work to reduce the pain, breakup the old stagnated blood, encourage blood flow and promote hormonal balance. TCM treatment also aims to re-establish proper estrogen/progesterone ratios, which is essential in healing this condition.
How we can help
Our practitioners are very passionate about helping patients who are suffering from endometriosis and have garnered a great deal of experience in helping these patients. Generally, our practitioners aim to assist these patients by combing weekly acupuncture sessions with Chinese herbal medicine, as well as the provision of lifestyle advice according to individual circumstances.
Book your appointment today
We are dedicated to helping you achieve the health and wellness that you desire. If you are interested, feel free to call us at our Frankston clinic on 9785 6688, or our Murrumbeena clinic on 9041 8879 to book an appointment today.