There IS help for Endometriosis. For those of you who have it, you’re saying “What!?” For those who don’t, you’re probably saying, “What the hell is that?” Even so, read on, because if you end up knowing anyone who has it, they’ll want to know about this. Strangely enough, Endometriosis is a disease where tissue that is the same as the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, grows OUTSIDE of the uterus. Mostly it’s found in the abdominal cavity, perhaps attached to ovaries or the intestines or just the supportive ligaments. Occasionally, it’s even found inside the intestines or lungs, and, rarely, the nose! The difficult thing about this is that this tissue grows and fills with blood in response to hormones, and then sheds, exactly the same as inside the uterus. It also tends to spread in some women. This means that it can become extremely painful, especially at period time, and it can also become an impediment to fertility.
No one knows what causes endometriosis. Various theories exist, including backflow from the uterus and damage to DNA by toxins or yeast overgrowth. Regardless of the cause from Western Medicine point of view, it presents as a pattern of Blood Stasis in Chinese Medicine. There may be other patterns together with this, but there is always Blood Stasis. While it is not an easy thing to treat for any practitioner, there IS help! It takes a concerted, full spectrum approach in which Acupuncture and Chinese herbs play a central role.
In the past year, I’ve had several examples of an aggressive approach having some success in reducing endometriosis. In one case, let’s call her Sylvia, the endometriosis was very widespread and causing significant pain, so the patient decided to have it surgically removed, along with the uterus. Unfortunately, it tends to come back (even without the uterus, which perhaps negates the backflow theory?). So Sylvia came to me, both for help in recovering from the surgery, and to keep the endometriosis from spreading. Two months after the surgery, she had already been told that some new growth was appearing on an ovary, what is often called a “chocolate cyst.” The doctors were recommending hormone therapy for this. Sylvia was also having a lot of pain; in fact, she came into the clinic walking stiffly and slowly.
Sylvia set up an aggressive plan of regular acupuncture, cooking strong Chinese herbs to move the blood, and at the same time seeking out pelvic floor massage and doing yoga for exercise. After she had regained some strength, we also added in cupping therapy on the abdomen and low back and weekly abdominal massage, a deep massage I do that is similar to Chi Nei Tsang, a Chinese form of abdominal massage.
After just a few weeks, Sylvia was checked by her OB/GYN, who was surprised to find that the chocolate cyst had disappeared! He said to her, “Keep doing Acupuncture!” Sylvia also experienced great reductions in pain, and improvements in energy level and overall health. Since then, she has continued her routine. Several months into the Acupuncture, Sylvia was checked again. Still no chocolate cysts, and it was decided that hormone therapy was not necessary. Sylvia continued her routine, partly due to the long recovery time from such a surgery, but she was still regularly checked. Six and nine months later, some small ovarian cysts came and went, but they were never blood-filled. Sylvia rarely has any pain, and feels confident that we are keeping the endometriosis at bay.
Let’s be honest, the Acupuncture and herbs may not have been able to resolve the extensive amount of endometriosis that Sylvia had just before surgery. Surgery was most likely necessary at that point. However, Chinese Medicine does appear to help keep the endometriosis from returning, or when it does, we are dealing with smaller amounts. And, as I keep mentioning, it does take a disciplined, regular effort. This is the same kind of thing we need to do to help promote fertility in many patients: regular acupuncture, strong Chinese herbs, abdominal massage, and possibly other kinds of massage, along with diet changes and exercise. When I see a patient like Sylvia walking through the door smoothly and easily, with no pain, and a smile on her face, I know it’s worth it.