Endometriosis is a painful condition that can be profoundly debilitating. In Australia, endometriosis affects one in nine women and people assigned female at birth. That’s over 800,000 people struggling with pain and potential infertility each month.
Managing endometriosis can be a challenge because there isn’t currently a cure. However, some therapies can treat the symptoms and help you live comfortably. It's part of the reason why some women experiencing this condition look into alternative therapies including medical cannabis.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the womb’s lining (endometrium) grows in other parts of the body. These cells commonly grow in the pelvis, outside the uterus, ovaries, and even the bladder, but they can grow anywhere.
The tissue still behaves like the womb’s lining, which means that every month, it gets inflamed and bleeds. Over time, this leads to scarring and inflammation and can cause organs in the pelvis to adhere to each other.
Endometriosis can start from puberty and last until after menopause. Unfortunately, it’s often progressive, meaning symptoms get worse over time. There are four stages of endometriosis, from mild, with only small patches of endometriosis, to severe, where it has spread to most of the pelvic organs.
Endometriosis can affect anybody assigned female at birth, including transgender and non-binary people. It has a significant impact across Australia, with research showing it leads to billions of dollars of lost productivity.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Pain and infertility are the two main symptoms of endometriosis, but everyone’s experience will be unique. Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and about a quarter of people with endometriosis experience no symptoms at all.
Endometriosis causes abdominal and pelvic pain, particularly around a person’s period. Pain can also occur when having sex or going to the toilet. The severity and type of pain depends on where the endometriosis is.
Over time, endometriosis can lead to infertility. But not everyone with endometriosis experiences infertility—one study reports that infertility occurs for between 30 - 50 percent of people.
There are several reasons why endometriosis can cause infertility, and they’re not all well understood. For example, anatomical, hormonal, inflammation and immune system changes can contribute to infertility.
Other symptoms of endometriosis can include:
Heavy periods or irregular bleeding
Bleeding from the bladder or bowel
Causes of Endometriosis
There is still no clear consensus on the primary cause of endometriosis. But there are two causes that we know of. Firstly, menstrual blood can pass back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity. Because this blood contains endometrial cells, it can start growing and cause endometriosis.
Secondly, normal pelvic tissue can turn into endometrium in a process called metaplasia. However, these two causes don’t tell the whole story. We also know some factors make someone more likely to have endometriosis. These include:
Having a close family member who has endometriosis
Starting your period before the age of 11
Getting pregnant for the first time when you are older
Having immune system issues
Ongoing research is trying to figure out why these risk factors matter and to paint a complete picture of the causes of endometriosis.
Treatments for Endometriosis
Unfortunately, there is no cure for endometriosis. However, once it has been diagnosed, patients can work with their doctor to find ways to manage the symptoms so they can live their life.
Medical treatments for endometriosis include hormone treatments, pain relief, and surgical removal of endometriosis. For some people, a hormonal contraceptive like the pill or implant can reduce symptoms.
Many people with endometriosis in Australia choose to combine medical treatments with complementary therapies. These therapies can help manage the pain and mental health impacts of endometriosis.
Some common alternative therapies for endometriosis in Australia include:
Physiotherapy is often recommended when someone is experiencing problems with their bladder or bowel due to endometriosis.
For many, endometriosis severely impacts daily activities and can lead to anxiety and depression. A clinical psychologist can help manage the chronic pain and mental health challenges of endometriosis.
Medical cannabis for pain relief
Medical cannabis may provide relief from chronic pain caused by endometriosis. In Australia, a licensed practitioner, who is experienced using medical cannabis treatment, can help you get a prescription for the right product.
Adapting your diet could help relieve symptoms of endometriosis. Increasing omega-3 fats, reducing trans fats, and limiting processed and sugary food could help reduce inflammation.
With endometriosis, finding the treatment that works for you is key. Your doctor can help you safely try different treatments to manage your symptoms effectively.
Manage Endometriosis With Complementary Therapies
In Australia, endometriosis is a problematic condition that affects thousands of people. While there is no cure, combining medical and complementary therapies like medical cannabis can ease symptoms and help you live symptom-free.
If you’re struggling with endometriosis, ask your doctor for help and connect with others facing the same challenges.