Endometriosis is a disorder where the tissue that lines the uterus grows in other areas of the body. It’s currently estimated to affect some 5 million women in the United States alone, but this number could actually be much higher.
Although pelvic pain is the most common symptom, women report a range of other symptoms, including weight gain. Doctors have differing opinions on whether weight gain may be directly associated with endometriosis. There isn’t any formal research linking this symptom to the disorder, but anecdotal evidence persists. Keep reading to learn more.
The tissue lining the uterus is also called the endometrium. When it grows outside the uterus, there are a number of symptoms you may experience, including:
- painful menstrual cycles
- excessive bleeding
Weight gain may not be a direct symptom of endometriosis, but certain aspects of the disorder and its treatments may cause you to pack on pounds.
- hormonal imbalances
- certain medications
- a hysterectomy
Endometriosis has been linked to high levels of the hormone estrogen. This hormone is responsible for the thickening of the endometrium with your monthly menstrual cycles. Some women may even have a condition called estrogen dominance, which is also a possible cause of endometriosis.
Too much estrogen in the body can lead to a number of symptoms, including:
- irregular menstrual periods
- breast tenderness
Weight gain is another symptom of this hormonal imbalance. You may specifically notice fat accumulating around your abdomen and on the tops of your thighs.
Your doctor may prescribe hormone medications, like continuous-cycle birth control pills, the vaginal ring, or an intrauterine device (IUD) to help treat your symptoms.
During your normal menstrual cycle, your hormones thicken and then break down the endometrial lining. Hormone medications may slow tissue growth and prevent tissue from implanting elsewhere in the body. They may also make your menstrual cycles lighter and less frequent.
Some women report weight gain with oral contraceptives and other hormone medications. The synthetic version of progesterone (progestin) is likely the culprit.
Although researchers have concluded that hormonal birth control doesn’t directly cause weight gain, they do agree that certain side effects may be to blame. This includes fluid retention and increased appetite.
A total hysterectomy is a surgical treatment for endometriosis where the uterus, cervix, and both ovaries are removed from the body. Removing just the uterus may not be effective, as the ovaries are what produces the estrogen and can create pain in tissue throughout the body. This intervention is usually saved for the most extensive cases of the disorder.
After a hysterectomy, you can no longer get pregnant. Without your ovaries, your body effectively enters menopause. You may experience a range of symptoms that result from the lack of hormones estrogen and progesterone. These symptoms include anything from hot flashes to sleep problems to vaginal dryness. Weight gain and slowed metabolism are other common symptoms of menopause.
When menopause occurs naturally, symptoms start gradually. When menopause happens more abruptly, like as a result of a total hysterectomy, your symptoms may be particularly severe. In one 2009 study, women who had a hysterectomy before reaching menopause experienced the highest risk for weight gain in the first year following surgery.
Again, research is mixed on whether or not endometriosis directly or indirectly contributes to weight gain. Still, if you believe you’re gaining weight as a result of the disorder, there are some lifestyle changes you can make that may help.
- eating a balanced diet
- adding exercise to your routine
- considering alternative treatment options
The foods you choose have an impact on your weight. You may have heard to shop the perimeter of your grocery store — that’s actually solid advice, because that’s where the whole foods are. Whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Eating whole foods versus packaged foods gives your body the nutrients it needs to thrive while avoiding empty calories, like added sugars, that add to weight gain.
- Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Other good foods include whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
- Choose healthy cooking methods like baking, grilling, or sautéing instead of frying. Read labels on packaged foods to evaluate their salt, sugar, and fat content.
- Pack your own healthy snacks so you aren’t tempted by convenience foods when you’re out and about.
- Speak with your doctor or dietitian for specifics about how many calories you should eat each day, as well as other advice specific to you and your unique needs.
Experts recommend getting between 150 minutes of moderate activity and 75 minutes of a more vigorous activity each week to maintain and lose weight. Moderate activity includes exercises like walking, dancing, and gardening. Vigorous activity includes exercises like running, cycling, and swimming.
Don’t know where to begin?
- Stretch. Flexibility in your muscles and joints will increase your range of motion and help you avoid injury.
- Start slow. A gentle walk in your neighborhood is a good building block. Try increasing your distance over time or incorporating intervals as you feel more aerobically fit.
- Look into strength training. Lifting weights regularly will tone your muscles and help you burn more fat. If you belong to a gym, consider asking a personal trainer for tips on proper form.
Hormone medications and surgical treatments, like a hysterectomy, may cause weight gain. If you’re concerned about these options, though, chat with your doctor.
There are other treatments available, like taking pain relievers as needed. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), may help with menstrual cramping.
Lifestyle changes may also help. For example, taking warm baths or using heating pads may reduce your cramps and pain. Regular exercise may also ease your symptoms, all while aiding your weight loss efforts.
If you have endometriosis and feel it may be contributing to weight gain, make an appointment with your doctor. Take note of any additional symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Your doctor may discuss alternative treatment options, as well as lifestyle changes that can help you feel better and stay in a healthy weight range.
It’s always a good idea to contact your doctor before making significant changes to your diet and exercise routines. Your doctor may even have suggestions or refer you to a specialist, like a dietitian, for additional support.