One in ten people assigned female at birth or of reproductive age, live with endometriosis in the UK1. With no current cure for this chronic disease, treatment usually focusses on symptom management2.
Senior Physiologist Lauren Davenport explores some ways to help alleviate the symptoms of the condition, although its worth noting that what works for one person might not work for another.
What is endometriosis?
In endometriosis, cells like those of the womb lining grow in other areas of the body, mainly the pelvic area such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes but can also grow elsewhere such as the bladder.
There is nowhere for the blood to go when these cells bleed (during menstruation), leading to inflammation, scarring, and pain3.
For more information about how endometriosis is diagnosed and what treatments are sometimes offered, visit Endometriosis symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
Living with endometriosis
Due to the symptoms, which can include:
- chronic pain,
- painful bowel movements or urination,
- depression or/and anxiety,
- or infertility
endometriosis can severely impact someone’s life and the ability to function day-to-day, physically and emotionally. The precise cause of endometriosis-associated pain is not well understood, and the severity of the pain a patient experiences does not seem to correlate with the size or location of endometrial lesions.4
For some the pain could be caused by some lesions containing nerve cells, or scar tissue pulling on internal organs. For some women, it’s during the menstrual cycle that the pain intensifies which is thought to be caused by changes in the hormone levels.
Currently, there’s no cure but there are some ways to help lessen the impact and severity of the symptoms.
Top tips for managing symptoms
Use heat to help reduce pain such as a hot water bottle, bath, or electric heat pad as this will help to promote blood flow, helping your muscles to relax.
Try to get moving and stay active. Any movement or exercise can help by increasing circulation and feel-good hormones that help boost mood and reduce pain.
You may want to adapt what you do depending on your symptoms, for example, higher intensity activities such as cycling or running may be better on days symptoms are less impactful.
Low impact activities such as walking, or light stretching could be better suited when pain is higher. Activities like Pilates and yoga can also help manage pelvic pain.
Looking after your mental wellbeing
Look after your psychological wellbeing through stress management techniques and by doing things that bring you joy. If our mental health isn’t good, it can make our physical pain feel worse.
Frequently, endometriosis symptoms are not taken seriously by friends and family members. Fatigue is confused with tiredness, and many people do not understand that the pain women with endometriosis experience is not comparable to the usual menstrual pain that most women know. The feeling of being misunderstood also may contribute to the development of psychologic problems such as anxiety and depression.5
Try to get good sleep to help reduce fatigue, as well as reduce stress. You could try incorporating some muscle relation techniques into your bedtime routine, such as light stretching, or a bath with Epsom salt.
Read more > Health benefits of sleep
A healthy balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains will always best support our body and mind, and whilst there is limited research that says specific foods can make endometriosis better or worse, limiting processed foods, meat, dairy, and even gluten have been suggested to improve symptoms for some.
Endometriosis can’t be prevented but according to the Office on Women’s Health, a woman might be able to reduce their risk of developing it by avoiding foods and chemicals that increase their oestrogen levels. These substances include caffeine and alcohol.6
Keeping a symptom diary
Track your pain and other symptoms throughout the month. This way you may be able to see trends which could help you adjust your day/week accordingly, as well as provide important information when discussing management or treatment with your doctor.
It’s good to talk
Talk about how you are feeling, especially if those around you don’t have the lived experience. Speaking openly can help them to better understand and can help avoid stressful or negative conversations.
Talk to your doctor as over the counter medications may not always be enough to manage your pain. There may also be hormonal therapy or surgical options that you may want to discuss.
Find support groups and share experiences with others in the same position as you. Endometriosis UK for example, has a directory, a helpline, a webchat, and an online community.7
If endometriosis is affecting you, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your doctor if you need more support.
- Priorities for endometriosis research – National Library of Medicine
- Endometriosis - World Health Organisation
- Endometriosis – NHS
- Endometriosis Symptoms – Endometriosis News
- Anxiety and Depression – Endometriosis News
- What should you eat if you have endometriosis? – Medical News Today
- Pain relief for endometriosis – Endometriosis UK