Currently, there is no cure for endometriosis. Treatment focuses on alleviating pain and preventing infertility. Potential treatments range from oral medications, like birth control pills, to surgical solutions, like laparoscopy. There are even alternative therapies for endometriosis.
To help determine the best endometriosis treatment for you, your doctor will consider factors such as your:
- pain level
- desire to get pregnant
- overall health
Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, can reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. If your pain level is low, OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) may be all you need to control your pain.
But many people need additional medications or treatments to help improve their quality of life. Medications used to treat endometriosis include:
Birth control pills
Medications like birth control that help regulate hormones are among the most common endometriosis treatments. They help reduce the pain and cramping that happen around your period. They may also prevent the formation of new adhesions.
To treat endometriosis, doctors sometimes recommend extended or continuous cycle birth control pills. Eliminating the placebo (sugar pill) days keeps hormone levels even more stable.
Birth control pills typically shorten and lighten your periods. Continuous-cycle pills can also be used to reduce the number of periods you have annually or to stop them completely.
Birth control pills are a good option for people who plan on getting pregnant in the near future, as they can be easily discontinued.
IUDs and other hormonal contraceptives
Hormonal birth control only reduces endometriosis symptoms while you’re using it. If you stop using it (or forget to take your pill regularly), your symptoms will most likely come back.
Hormonal IUDs work the same way as birth control pills to stop endometrial tissue from thickening. They can reduce cramps and make your period much lighter. Some people stop getting their period altogether.
Hormonal IUDs last for several years and can be removed if you decide to get pregnant.
Other hormonal contraceptive options include:
GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonists
GnRH agonists prevent your ovaries from making estrogen. This stops ovulation, menstruation, and the hormonal cycle that exacerbates endometriosis.
GnRH agonists are available as a nasal spray or injection. They are also available in pill form.
These medications can cause many of the unpleasant side effects common during menopause, including:
They can also lead to bone loss and other complications if taken long term.
Danazol is a synthetic steroid that mimics testosterone, a male reproductive hormone. This drug, taken in pill form, stops ovulation from occurring. You may have very few or no menstrual cycles while you’re on this drug.
Danazol may cause “masculinization” side effects, such as a deepening of your voice. It can also harm a developing fetus. You should not take this medication if you are or might become pregnant.
Endometriosis surgery can be done to both confirm a diagnosis and treat the disease.
The benefits of surgery may be temporary or permanent. Before you consent to any procedure, talk with a doctor about whether you have a desire for future pregnancy. Some procedures will make pregnancy more likely to occur. Others will eliminate your ability to conceive and carry a baby.
A laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that allows your doctor to see inside your abdomen with a tiny camera. It is the gold standard for diagnosing endometriosis. It can also be used to treat the disease.
During a diagnostic laparoscopy, a small incision is made in your abdomen, and a thin tube with a camera at its tip is inserted into it. This allows your doctor to see how advanced your endometriosis is.
If your surgeon chooses to proceed with treatment, they will remove excess tissue through another small incision. They may also destroy scar tissue and adhesions with a laser or cauterization tool.
Removing this tissue may make it easier for you to conceive. It may also reduce your pain level.
Laparoscopy may be a good option for you if your symptoms don’t improve with medication alone, but it is not a cure for endometriosis. Endometrial tissue often grows back over time.
Other surgical options
Other surgical treatments for endometriosis are much more aggressive. For this reason, they aren’t as common as they used to be. Examples include:
- Laparotomy. This major surgical procedure is sometimes done to remove endometrial and scar tissue. Because it involves large incisions and an extensive recovery, it’s not common.
- Hysterectomy. This is the surgical removal of the uterus. While it may reduce pain in those who don’t plan on carrying children, it can have adverse health consequences in younger people.
- Oophorectomy. This is the surgical removal of the ovaries. It may help improve symptoms, but it brings on early menopause. Early menopause carries its own health risks.
Some people with endometriosis have difficulty becoming pregnant. Patches of endometrial tissue can:
- block the fallopian tubes
- damage the ovaries
- alter the pelvic environment
Depending on several factors, such as the severity of your endometriosis, doctors may recommend laparoscopy or assistive reproductive technologies.
Fertility drugs and IUI
Fertility medications, like clomiphene and gonadotropins, are sometimes used to stimulate the ovaries. They encourage ovulation and help prepare the body for pregnancy. Clomiphene is taken as a pill for about 5 days during each cycle, while gonadotropins are taken by injection.
In people with more advanced endometriosis, fertility drugs are often combined with intrauterine insemination (IUI).
IUI is a type of artificial insemination performed in a doctor’s office. Using a sperm sample from a partner or donor, your doctor will place the sperm directly into your uterus.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
IVF is a form of assisted reproductive technology designed to help you get pregnant. The process involves many steps, including:
- Taking hormonal medications that help you produce many eggs.
- Having your eggs removed through a minor outpatient procedure called egg retrieval.
- Having an embryo placed directly into your uterus with a pipette during a procedure called an embryo transfer.
Since menstruation stops during pregnancy, many people experience relief from pain and other endometriosis symptoms during this time. Once you deliver, your symptoms may return.
You may be able to reduce the pain of endometriosis through alternative therapies. Ask a doctor about any natural remedies you’re considering. In some instances, they may be compatible with medical treatments you’re already having. In other instances, they may conflict.
Natural remedies for endometriosis may include:
- Acupuncture. A
review of studiesindicates that acupuncture may reduce the pain caused by endometriosis. Although more research is needed, studiesalso indicate that acupuncture improves IVF outcomes.
- Anti-inflammatory diet. Since endometriosis causes inflammation, avoiding foods like red meat and adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet may be beneficial.
- Massage. A type of massage therapy called osteopathic manipulative therapy may help relax the pelvic muscles and reduce pain. It may also be beneficial for reducing inflammation.
Treating endometriosis at home
Home remedies may reduce your discomfort. Examples include:
- NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) can reduce pain and swelling.
- Exercise. Exercising regularly has many benefits, including alleviating stress, supporting pain management, and reducing inflammation.
- Heat. Try placing a hot water bottle or heating pad on your abdomen.
- Meditation. Meditation helps reduce stress and improve pain management.
- Tea. Drinking teas that have anti-inflammatory properties, such as ginger and turmeric, may help.
You don’t have to live with endometriosis pain. Have an open dialogue with a doctor you trust about your quality of life and what you’re going through. When people feel too embarrassed or awkward to discuss certain symptoms with their doctors, they don’t get the treatment they need.
Keep in mind, historically, doctors have not done a great job handling women’s pain. If your doctor isn’t taking your symptoms or concerns seriously, find an empathetic gynecologist who will. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a great directory.
Endometriosis treatment focuses on symptom relief. Hormonal medications like birth control pills and IUDs are the most common treatment choice. But surgery is also an option. Pregnancy can often be achieved naturally or through assisted reproductive technologies like IUI and IVF.