What is endometriosis?

 What is endo­met­ri­os­is?

One of the most com­mon causes of infer­til­ity is a mys­ter­i­ous med­ic­al con­di­tion called “endo­met­ri­os­is”. Amongst the mil­lions of women who are affected, forty per­cent don’t exper­i­ence any symp­toms oth­er than the inab­il­ity to fall preg­nant, while some of the remain­ing suf­fer­ers com­plain of exper­i­en­cing excru­ci­at­ing pain.

The endo­met­ri­um is the out­er lin­ing of the uter­us. In the early stage of a woman’s monthly men­stru­al cycle, a surge of estro­gen hor­mones cause that lin­ing to expand to allow implant­a­tion of the egg if a preg­nancy occurs. When it doesn’t, enzymes in the body break down and lique­fy that super­fi­cial lin­ing, which becomes the men­stru­al blood­shed dur­ing the menses.

In endo­met­ri­os­is, small sec­tions of that lay­er are retained in the body. These endo­metri­al cells gradu­ally migrate out­side the uter­us to implant them­selves in a wide range of areas, inside, and out­side the repro­duct­ive organs, includ­ing: in the cer­vix, the fal­lopi­an tubes, the large intest­ine, the blad­der, the thor­ax and the lungs. Once implanted in these for­eign sites, the endo­metri­al tis­sue con­tin­ues to respond to the hor­mon­al fluc­tu­ation of the men­stru­al cycle, get­ting thick­er pri­or to ovu­la­tion, and turn­ing into blood dur­ing men­stru­ation.

Being in an enclosed space, these abnor­mal secre­tions can’t be expelled from the body, so they accu­mu­late and get inflamed, caus­ing scar­ring and adhe­sions to the sur­round­ing tis­sues. If the ovar­ies are involved, the blood stag­na­tion can res­ult in the pro­duc­tion of fibrous cysts in the fal­lopi­an tubes which stop the egg being fer­til­ized.

Why does endo­met­ri­os­is occur is still a mat­ter of con­tro­versy. One com­mon the­ory is that this con­di­tion is the con­sequence of “ret­ro­grade men­stru­ation” when some of the men­stru­al blood seeps back­ward into the fal­lopi­an tubes and travels up the abdom­in­al cav­ity dur­ing the monthly menses, but many women who exper­i­ence ret­ro­grade men­stru­ation don’t get affected by endo­met­ri­os­is.

Anoth­er the­ory is that these endo­metri­al implants secrete the hor­mone prostagland­in caus­ing spasms in the repro­duct­ive organs, and impair­ing their capa­city to func­tion.

In fact, no one really knows!

The main symp­toms of endo­met­ri­os­is, apart from infer­til­ity, include severe men­stru­al pain, and cramp­ing, pain dur­ing sexu­al inter­course, fatigue, pain dur­ing urin­a­tion and bowel move­ments, diarrhea, con­stip­a­tion or naus­ea.

Endo­met­ri­os­is is clas­si­fied accord­ing to the extent of pel­vic adhe­sions and implanted for­eign tis­sue and the amount of block­age of the fal­lopi­an tubes. These dif­fer­ent stages don’t always reflect the level of pain exper­i­enced, the risk of infer­til­ity, or the symp­toms present. For example, a woman in the first stage could be in tre­mend­ous pain, while a woman in stage four might be asymp­to­mat­ic. Nev­er­the­less, being treated dur­ing the early stages of the dis­ease is the best chance of regain­ing fer­til­ity.

The cur­rent West­ern med­ic­al approach is to pre­scribe paink­illers, and then to use sur­gery, or hor­mone con­trolling drugs to remove the for­eign endo­metri­al tis­sue. These include tak­ing the birth con­trol pill, or men­o­pause indu­cing med­ic­a­tion to stop men­stru­ation and ovu­la­tion. Unfor­tu­nately, the increased level of testoster­one hor­mones in the body can res­ult in severe side effects. Even when sur­gery occurs, it is very dif­fi­cult to totally remove all the endo­metri­al cells, so there is a con­stant risk of fur­ther con­tam­in­a­tion of the fal­lopi­an tubes.

There seem to be increased incid­ence of endo­met­ri­os­is if a mem­ber of the fam­ily already has the con­di­tion. Life­style factors such as, drink­ing more than two cof­fees daily put women at a great­er risk. Iron­ic­ally, cigar­ette smoking, which impairs the pro­duc­tion of estro­gen, appears to have the oppos­ite effect. Also, hav­ing sex, or under­tak­ing intense exer­cise dur­ing men­stru­ation can increase the risks of ret­ro­grade men­stru­al flow which pro­motes the implant­a­tion of endo­metri­al tis­sue out­side the uter­us. In con­trast, reg­u­lar mod­er­ate exer­cise seems to be bene­fi­cial.

In Ori­ent­al medi­cine, endo­met­ri­os­is is con­sidered to be caused by blood stag­na­tion, or lack of cir­cu­la­tion of blood in the deep­er lay­ers of the meridi­ans. That blood stag­na­tion in the implanted for­eign endo­metri­al tis­sues is detec­ted as a tox­ic sub­stance by the immune sys­tem which then reacts by attack­ing all the endo­metri­al cells in the body and cre­at­ing inflam­ma­tion and pain.

The Ori­ent­al medicine’s approach to treat­ment is to pre­scribe blood mov­ing herbs, and ancient res­ins type sub­stances such as frankin­cense, or myrrh which are used to break the blood stag­na­tion at a deep level. A Japan­ese med­ic­al study con­duc­ted at the Uni­ver­sity of Osaka a few years ago showed that the group of women who received a clas­sic herb­al with cin­na­mon twigs had their IgM anti­body and inflam­ma­tion levels decreased to such an extent that they remained pain-free for months after the study was con­cluded. Also chan­ging the diet, avoid­ing dairy and wheat products, redu­cing meat con­sump­tion, and tak­ing flax­seed, even­ing prim­rose, or fish oil sup­ple­ments will restore the immune sys­tem, and elim­in­ate the built up of flu­id stag­na­tion in the organs.

With the right dia­gnos­is, life­style modi­fic­a­tions, and appro­pri­ate treat­ments, the res­ults can be very effect­ive. Many women, who had pre­vi­ously been told that they had no chance of achiev­ing a nor­mal birth, often get delighted when they are able to regain their health and have a suc­cess­ful preg­nancy after a few months of reg­u­lar herb­al and acu­punc­ture treat­ments.

Olivi­er Lejus MHSc BHSc. is a Sydney based registered acu­punc­tur­ist and herb­al­ist with a spe­cial interest in infer­til­ity.

About Olivier Lejus

I was born in France and I emigrated to Australia in 1980. I worked as a circus performer, puppeteer and actor before I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine a the University of Technology of Sydney in 1997. I graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of of science degree in Traditional Chinese medicine. I am now specializing in Japanese style acupuncture for the treatment of female and male infertility, pain, and anxiety.

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