Endometriosis is a term that has recently made headlines more frequently thanks in part to celebrities like Julianne Hough and Halsey who are raising awareness around it. A quick search online, and you'll find thousands of women sharing their own brave experiences and stories through hashtags like #SpeakENDO and #EndoWarriors. But what exactly is Endometriosis? How do you know you are suffering from it? What are the steps you need to take for your health? We spoke with Naturopathic Doctor Dr. Alexsia Priolo who gave us the lowdown on everything we need to know.
Okay let's start with the basics, for those who don't know. What is endometriosis?
Because pain has been normalized as part of the period experience, some women don’t realize they may have endometriosis until years later
Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition affecting one in ten women. It happens when endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus and sheds during each menstrual cycle, grows outside the uterus. Common places for endometrial lesions are on the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, but can also be found on the bowel, bladder and even distant places in the body like the lungs.
Of course, the best thing is to go see your doctor but what are some of the symptoms/signs that you may have endometriosis?
Because pain has been normalized as part of the period experience, some women don’t realize they may have endometriosis until years later. The primary symptom is pain during your period – it may be so intense that you miss school or work, and can’t do any of your normal daily activities. You might even find that pain relievers don’t reduce the intensity of pain. Other symptoms may be heavy periods, painful sex, painful bowel movements, spotting in between your cycle, and diarrhea. Sometimes you may not experience any symptoms – people usually find this out when they’re trying to get pregnant.
What could cause endometriosis? Are there things you can do to prevent it?
Unfortunately, no one knows the exact reason why endometriosis happens. We know that estrogen plays a role in stimulating the growth of endometrial lesions. Genetics can also be a factor in developing endometriosis – a mother may pass it onto her daughter. Endometriosis does affect the immune system, as it causes it to produce a lot of inflammation throughout your body.
Some people think that it happens because menstrual blood flows backwards instead of forwards. Others think it happens because of dioxin (an environmental toxin) exposure. Because we don’t have a solid understanding of how it happens, it can’t be prevented.
What are some myths surrounding endometriosis that people should know about?
First of all, pain is common, but it’s not part of a healthy period. If you experience persistent painful periods and some of the other above symptoms, be sure to track when they happen during your cycle, what they feel like (ie. sharp, shooting, stabbing pain) and the intensity (ie. out of 10).
pain is common, but it’s not part of a healthy period.
An ultrasound cannot diagnose endometriosis. The gold standard of diagnosis is a laparoscopic surgery. This surgery is done to both identify the endometrial lesions and remove them. Your doctor may first try out pain relievers or birth control to see if that helps, but a surgery is needed to diagnose your period pain as endometriosis.
What are the steps someone should take if they are diagnosed with endometriosis?
While there isn’t a cure for endometriosis (although surgery can feel like a cure to some), when people see a Naturopathic Doctor, they usually want to reduce the number of pain relievers they’re taking each month. This can be achieved by dietary changes and adding in naturally anti-inflammatory herbs or supplements.
Ensuring that you’re having regular bowel movements can be a small, yet achievable goal. Regular bowel movements typically means that excess estrogen is leaving your body and not stimulating the growth of lesions. If you’re not having regular bowel movements, you can certainly take a look at your diet with a Naturopathic Doctor to see if any particular foods are preventing this, or if you need to add in gentle supplements like magnesium to get things going – literally. Decreasing your exposure to endocrine disruptors (which can sometimes mimic estrogen), can be simple. Reducing the amount of plastic that you use – water bottles, food containers and replacing it with glass or stainless steel is a great place to start.
Usually people also see me when they’re ready to have a baby, but endometriosis is slowing down the process. If they’re working with a fertility clinic, I may not employ a number of supplements (because we want to avoid any interactions with fertility medications), so simply working on diet or even using acupuncture may be helpful. Naturopathic Doctors are trained to provide acupuncture – and use it so that your blood and energy is flowing smoothly! I like to think of an acupuncture treatment as self-care time. Overall, while a Naturopathic Doctor cannot diagnose you with endometriosis or complete get rid of it, we can help to manage and decrease your pain using evidence-based and natural treatments that complement the care provided by your Medical Doctor.
Dr. Alexsia Priolo is a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto. She works with pregnant people and people in the postpartum, as well as those trying to become pregnant. She uses evidence-based medicine to educate and empower her clients so they can experience a healthy perinatal journey.