There are a lot of options, but what’s right for someone else may not be right for you.
From the very beginning, my period was heavy, long, and incredibly painful. I would have to take sick days from school, spending all day lying in bed, cursing out my uterus.
It wasn’t until I was in my senior year of high school that things began to change. I went on birth control continuously to counteract what my gynecologist believed to be symptoms of endometriosis. Suddenly, my periods were shorter and less painful, no longer causing such an interference in my life.
I was familiar with endometriosis because of others around me having been diagnosed. But, even still, understanding what endometriosis is can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to determine if you have it.
“Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of endometrial cells, which make up the tissue that should be located exclusively in the uterus, but has instead grown outside the uterine cavity. [People] who have endometriosis often experience a variety of symptoms, including heavy periods, extreme pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, back pain,” Dr. Rebecca Brightman, private practice OB-GYN in New York and educational partner for SpeakENDO says.
Too often people — and their doctors — dismiss painful periods as normal, instead of a sign of something more serious, like endometriosis. Let me tell you, there’s nothing normal about it.
On the other side, there are people who don’t discover they have endometriosis until they’re having trouble conceiving and need to have it removed.
“Oddly, the degree of symptoms is not directly related to the extent of disease, i.e., mild endometriosis can cause severe pain, and advanced endometriosis may have minimal to no discomfort,” Dr. Mark Trolice, a board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, tells Healthline.
So, like many things in the body, it makes absolutely no sense.
With such a mix of severity and symptoms, counteractive measures are different for each person. “There is no cure for endometriosis, but treatment options are available and can range from holistic approaches, such as changes in diet or acupuncture, to medications and surgery,” Brightman says.
Yes, the most important thing when coping with endometriosis: treatment options. From gradual to more involved, here are the things you can do to lessen your endometriosis symptoms.
This is best for: anyone who wants to try a medicine-less option
This won’t work for: people with severe, chronic pain
Whenever my endometriosis flares, as it still does to this day, a heating pad will soothe the pain a bit and allow me to relax. If you can, buy a wireless one to allow you more flexibility for positioning and where you use it. It’s amazing how well heat can provide a temporary release.
Some other options include a pelvic massage, engaging in light exercise — if you’re up for it — taking ginger and turmeric, reducing stress when you can, and simply getting enough rest.
This is best for: a person looking for a long-term solution who will take a pill responsibly every day
This won’t work for: someone looking to get pregnant or prone to blood clots
Progestin and estrogen are hormones commonly found in birth control that have been proven to help with endometriosis pain.
“Progestin reduces the endometrial thickness and prevents the growth of endometrial implants. Progestin may also stop menstruation,” Dr. Anna Klepchukova, chief science officer at Flo Health, tells Healthline. “Medications containing a combination of estrogen and progestin… have proven to suppress endometrial activity and relieve pain.”
Thanks to birth control, I’ve been able to feel some semblance of control over my endometriosis. Going from those heavy, painful periods to light, much more manageable cycles allows me to live my life with much less disruption. It’s been almost 7 years since I started taking birth control, and it still has a huge impact on my well-being.
This is best for: people looking for a helpful solution with low maintenance
This won’t work for: anyone who’s at increased risk of STIs, pelvic inflammatory disease, or any cancer in the reproductive organs
Similarly, IUDs that have progestin can also help with managing endometriosis symptoms. “The hormonal intrauterine device Mirena is used to treat endometriosis and shown to be effective in reducing pelvic pain,” Klepchukova says. This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to stay on top of taking a pill every day.
This is best for: people who are receptive to changes in diet
This won’t work for: someone with a history of disordered eating, or anyone who may be negatively affected by a restrictive diet
Yes, going gluten-free seems to be the answer for everything. In a
As someone with celiac disease, I’m forced to maintain a strict gluten-free diet already, but I’m thankful that it may help with my endometriosis-triggered pain as well.
In a similar vein, FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate present in certain foods, like gluten. Certain foods that are high in FODMAPs are also very triggering for endometriosis, such as fermented foods and garlic. I love garlic more than almost anything, but I try to avoid it and other foods high in FODMAPS around the end of my cycle.
While there are many who find that a low-FODMAP diet improves their endometriosis symptoms, there isn’t a ton of research to support that this diet works.
This is best for: cases of severe endometriosis involving the bowel, bladder, or ureter, and is used mainly before and after surgery for endometriosis
This won’t work for: people susceptible to hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and bone density loss, which can be potential side effects
Klepchukova explains that these are “used in cases of deeply severe endometriosis involving the bowel, bladder, or ureter. This is used mainly before surgery for endometriosis treatment.” It can be taken through a daily nose spray, a monthly injection, or an injection every 3 months, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Doing this can stop the production of hormones that bring on ovulation, menstruation, and endometriosis growth. While this can go a long way toward helping symptoms, the medication has risks — such as bone loss and heart complications — which increase if taken longer than 6 months.
This is best for: anyone who hasn’t found relief through less-invasive methods
This won’t work for: someone with advanced stages of endometriosis who’s less likely to be fully treated at the time of surgery and is more likely to have recurrent symptoms
While surgery is a last resort option, for anyone experiencing immense pain from endometriosis symptoms without relief, it’s something to consider. A laparoscopy confirms the existence of endometriosis and removes the growth in the same procedure.
“About 75 percent of women who have surgery will experience initial pain relief following endometriosis surgery, where the implants/lesions/scarring of endometriosis are removed,” Trolice says.
Unfortunately, endometriosis often grows back, and Trolice explains that almost 20 percent of people will have another surgery within 2 years.
Endometriosis is an overwhelming, complicated, frustrating, and invisible disease.
Thankfully, there are more options for management than ever before. It’s important to discuss your options with your care team — and to trust your gut while making these decisions.
And remember: These things can help with physical symptoms, but it’s just as critical to take care of yourself mentally, too. When it comes to chronic conditions, supporting ourselves emotionally is a vital part of our health and well-being.
Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion and food.