What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is described as the growth of endometrial tissue outside of the endometrium. The tissue is often found in the abdominal cavity (ovaries, intestines, bladder, vagina, etc) but has even been found in places like the brain, nose, the outside of the internal organs, and the chest lining. Endometrial cells are supposed to grow inside of the endometrial lining inside of the uterus, so when those cells are found elsewhere in the body the diagnosis of endometriosis is made. The tissue acts the same as it would were it growing inside the uterus, so it grows and builds mid-cycle and bleeds during menstruation. This can cause dysmenorrhea, or painful and difficult menstruation, and after this continues for some time, scar tissue can build up which can eventually lead to internal adhesions. This can cause complications for women, one of those being infertility.
While endometriosis can be asymptomatic, usual symptoms include lower abdominal or pelvic pain, abdominal swelling, pain during intercourse, irregular periods, spotting before or in-between periods, pain during bowel movements, bleeding from the rectum during periods, and low abdominal pain during periods. If the endometrial tissue has migrated to the nose, women will experience nosebleeds during their periods. Lastly, women may suffer with infertility which can be particularly difficult for them emotionally.
What Causes Endometriosis
The cause of endometriosis is actually unknown, yet there are theories. One of these theories is that during menstruation the menstrual blood backs up into the Fallopian Tubes and pelvic and abdominal cavity and endometrial tissue is deposited in places in the body where it does not belong. This is called “retrograde menstruation,” and many women have this in different degrees, however not all have endometriosis. Another possibility is coelomic metaplasia, which just means that there are cells in areas in the lining of the woman’s pelvic organs that have the ability to grow in different forms of tissue, or endometrial cells. There is also the idea that some women have weaker immune systems that cannot do away with any endometrial tissue that has migrated outside of the uterus.
Chinese medicine views endometriosis differently. When you visit an acupuncture physician, you will be put through a series of questions that may seem completely unrelated to your chief complaint. What the physician is doing, however, is trying to uncover the imbalance in your body that has led to the endometriosis. When the body is put back into balance, it will heal itself.
There are several patterns of endometriosis according to Chinese medicine and no two patterns are the same; therefore each person is treated differently with different acupuncture points and different herbal formulas. For instance, one suffering from the pattern of endometriosis due to deficiency of qi, or the life force of energy flowing through our bodies, may have the symptoms of chronic, irregular and painful periods, pain that is worse with pressure, large clots, the inability to conceive, pain during intercourse, fatigue, bloating, and a bearing down sensation in the lower abdomen. In contrast, a patient with endometriosis due to heat stagnation and blood stasis would present with painful periods, would dislike massage on the abdomen, have large clots, irregular menstruation, feel hot during menses, have thirst with a preference for cold drinks, and have constipation. There are several other patterns in Chinese medicine which contribute to endometriosis and each is unique.
Treatment for Endometriosis with Chinese Medicine
Treatment for Endometriosis using Chinese medicine involves acupuncture, herbals, and possibly diet and lifestyle change. It is not a quick fix but it is a more permanent one. Periods can drastically change during treatment and some months it can look like things are going in the right direction and other months it can seem like things are going backward. Of course, the more severe the condition, the longer it will take the body to rebalance itself. Women that do not find relief using Chinese medicine usually either quit before changes can occur or set up unrealistic expectations. Patience and compliance is required to assist the body in recovering and rebalancing. The good news is that endometriosis responds very well to Chinese medicine and given time and proper treatment the blood flow will improve, the blood stagnation will resolve, and the body can allow conception to take place.
By Amanda Carter
Board Certified Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine