Dealing With Endometriosis Pain Is Challenging–But There’s Hope!
By Amanda Trout, M.D.
Endometriosis is a disease where tissue that usually grows in the uterus during the menstrual cycle is found outside the uterus. It can cause extreme pain and compound with existing menstrual cramp pain. It’s also a common painful condition, affecting as many as 1 in 10 women during their chilbearing years.
Most of the abnormal tissue growth occurs in the abdomen, but it could be anywhere in the body. It grows in time with the menstrual cycle and the abnormal tissue growth can cause inflammation and pain wherever it is located. This can cause mild to severe pain depending on the location, the amount of extra tissue, and the body’s response to the tissue. Sometimes urination or bowel movements can become painful because of the abnormal tissue growth. In addition, people with endometriosis may be at increased risk for migraines, although it’s unclear why.
If you are having abnormally severe cramps or abdominal pain around your period, it’s a good idea to go see your gynecologist to talk about the symptoms. Your gynecologist may put you on hormonal birth control at first, to see if the hormones regulate your symptoms. If that fails to manage the pain, you may receive a clinical endometriosis diagnosis. Sometimes CT scans or MRIs can be used to further diagnose and identify endometriosis.
Dealing with endometriosis pain can be challenging. However, there are many ways to manage the pain, including adapting your lifestyle and practicing mindfulness and self-awareness. Endometriosis is a cyclical disease, so pain is most common at certain points in your cycle. Learning those points and what may aggravate the pain is key to living a happy, healthy life with endometriosis.
Managing Endometriosis Pain and Symptoms
For many women with mild endometriosis, simple hormonal birth control can do a lot to curb pain. Anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil, Aleve, or Midol can also help treat symptoms. Another useful tool for mild to moderate pain is a tens unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) can be a great treatment option. A tens unit is a small device that delivers electrical signals to a localized area through electrodes placed on the skin. The electrical current can disrupt pain signals, to prevent them from ever reaching your brain and being felt as pain. Tens units are available for less than $100 on websites like Amazon!
Massage therapy and acupuncture can also be very helpful in relieving endometriosis pain. Other at-home strategies for pain management include stretching, yoga, hydration, hot water bottles or heating pads, warm baths, and changing your diet.
Removing inflammatory foods from your diet can be very impactful in reducing endo pain. The biggest culprits when it comes to inflammatory foods are sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, partially hydrogenated oils, and alcohol. Replace these foods as much as possible with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins, and fish. Partner these diet changes with a habitual hydration schedule, and you may notice a huge improvement in pain levels.
Yoga and gentle stretching are great ways to reduce swelling and inflammation. Movement increases blood flow, bringing nutrients to swollen, painful areas while sweeping inflammation away. Endometriosis pain can make you want to curl up and stop moving, but getting active helps to get your mind off the pain while working to physically reduce that pain.
Mindfulness is another great part of yoga that can make a positive impact on the endometriosis experience. Focusing on when pain happens, what makes it worse or better, and how the pain corresponds to your menstrual cycle lessens the stress of randomly occurring pain. It may even be helpful to keep a journal or a running note on your phone. Mindfulness helps you to develop a plan for when the pain is severe.
For the most severe endometriosis pain, surgery can be a more permanent solution. When a large amount of tissue accumulates, surgical procedures can be done to remove it which often lessens the pain. The tissue removal surgery is usually done laparoscopically or robotically, so it’s minimally invasive. A few small incisions are made, and a small camera is inserted to aid the surgeons in removing the tissue without having to make a larger incision. Tissue removal is usually very successful for endometriosis patients.
Removing the tissue once can sometimes permanently reduce endometriosis pain. In the unlikely event that the tissue does grow back and cause pain after surgery, the same pain management strategies will likely be effective. In the case of very severe endometriosis pain, where doctors are unable to locate or surgically access the build-up of tissue, pain injections, spinal cord stimulators, or even pain pumps are another alternative.
Living a Happy Life With Endometriosis
Endometriosis can be an elusive diagnosis, but it’s important to advocate for yourself and get the help you need. If you are having severe pain associated with your period, don’t brush it off. Go in and talk to your gynecologist. The earlier in life that you secure a diagnosis, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to regulate and manage your endometriosis. A diagnosis opens up a world of possible treatment options that can radically alter your endo experience.
If traditional over-the-counter pain medication and other at-home options aren’t working for you, and you’re not eligible for or considering surgery, come in for a consultation at APC. Our pain specialists can put together a treatment plan alongside you, incorporating procedures, injections, or pain medications.
Awareness of this disease is becoming much more common and many women are speaking out about living with endometriosis. Endometriosis can be managed and you’re not alone! Search out your local endo community and share your experiences with other women living with endometriosis. It can be helpful to share tips and stories with other folks going through the same thing. You may find new ways to manage your pain or emotional support.
Most importantly, make sure to get in touch with yourself and your body. Knowing your specific needs, pain triggers, and pain cycles is the key to lessening the severity of endometriosis long-term.