The Symptoms of Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a common gynecological condition in which pieces of tissue similar to the endometrium (the lining of the womb) grow outside the womb. These pieces most commonly grow on the outer walls of the womb, the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and bowel.
During a normal menstrual cycle, the endometrium thickens over the course of the month. If an egg is not fertilized, the endometrium sheds. This is what causes menstrual bleeding.
In women with endometriosis, the same hormones that trigger menstruation also affect the pieces of endometrial tissue growing outside the womb. Since these pieces have no way of being expelled from the body, this causes pain and other symptoms depending on their location.
The symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pelvic pain which is worse during menstruation
- Painful and heavy periods, possibly with clotting
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse
- Pain when using the bathroom during your period
- Nausea, constipation or diarrhea during your period
- Blood in your urine or stools during your period
- Difficulty getting pregnant
Endometriosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, endometriosis is normally due to a condition known as blood stasis. Blood stasis simply means that blood is not flowing as it should. This causes it to collect in one area where it tends to thicken and clot, leading to pain.
Liver-Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis
One common cause of blood stasis is an imbalance in the Liver organ. In TCM, the Liver is responsible for the smooth circulation of qi around the body. Qi and blood are closely related, and the circulation of qi directly influences the circulation of blood. Therefore if qi stops flowing smoothly, blood will usually follow.
The most common reason why this happens is long-term stress. The Liver is very sensitive to the emotions anger, frustration and depression. Over time, these can all cause the Liver to become imbalanced and prevent it from effectively circulating qi (and therefore blood). The resulting condition is known as Liver-qi stagnation.
If you are suffering from endometriosis due to Liver-qi stagnation, your main symptoms will be:
- Abdominal bloating
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Period pain which is dull, cramping or colicky in nature
- Irritability or mood swings
If you are suffering from this type of blood stasis, it is a good idea to avoid stress and relax as much as possible. You might also find that doing some gentle exercise helps to get your circulation going and improves your symptoms.
Excess Cold and Blood Stasis
Another reason why some people suffer from blood stasis is an excess of cold within the body. In the case of endometriosis, this cold specifically affects the womb. Just as cold temperatures cause water to turn into ice, they can also cause blood to become thick and sluggish. This stops it from flowing as it should and it becomes stuck, causing pain.
Excess cold in the body usually arises from a diet which is rich in cold or raw foods. As well as causing blood stasis, this puts a strain on your digestive organs and can cause a number of different symptoms.
If your endometriosis is due to excess cold, your symptoms may include:
- Late or missing periods
- Severe period pain which is stabbing in nature
- Dark menstrual blood with clots
- Back pain
If you have an excess of cold in your body, the best way to treat it is by keeping warm. Be sure to wear enough clothes when you go out in cold weather and eat warming foods such as soups, stews and porridge. Spices such as cinnamon and ginger can be added to your cooking to give them an extra warming effect.
How Can Acupuncture Help Endometriosis?
Acupuncture uses fine needles placed on the body surface to improve the flow of qi and blood within the body. It helps to remove stagnation and relieve pain. If you are suffering from excess cold, your acupuncturist may also use a herb called moxa to warm your body.
Moxa comes from the mugwort plant and is dried and rolled into cigar-like sticks. These are then burnt an inch or two away from the skin to provide a pleasant and gentle warmth. Moxa can also be burnt directly over an acupuncture point in order to introduce heat into a specific area such as the womb. This treatment is called moxibustion.
Acupuncture and moxibustion are both extremely relaxing, so they are both ideal if you are suffering from stress. Your acupuncturist will also recommend any dietary or lifestyle changes that may be needed to supplement your treatment and relieve your symptoms of endometriosis.