Endometriosis Pain Relief – What Methods Exist?
18 May 2018 by - Dr Pandelis Athanasias
Endometriosis is a long-term condition which affects around 1 in 10 women and means that tissue similar to that which lines the womb begins to grow outside it, in places where it doesn’t belong, such as the ovaries, bowel, stomach and bladder. The primary symptom that those with the condition complain of is the pain – sometimes so bad that sufferers are not able to work, undertake exercise or have sex, which is why understanding different types of endometriosis pain relief is so important.
While the degree of severity will vary from person to person, there are several known pain relief methods which have worked for patients. Home remedies, pain medications, hormone treatments, attending physiotherapy and making lifestyle changes, can all contribute to a happier life with endometriosis.
We outline the different methods available in order to help people with endometriosis understand how to better manage their pain.
Your GP may suggest attending regular physiotherapy classes, in which your designated women’s physiotherapists will develop a specialised agenda of exercise and relaxation methods for you. These classes are designed to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and decrease pain, while also helping to manage mental health issues associated with endometriosis, such as stress and anxiety.
Many women with endometriosis will be prescribed hormonal contraceptive treatments to stop oestrogen production which makes the endometrial tissue shed in the body. The degree as to which this reduces pain will depend upon the severity of the condition and the type of hormonal treatment you are placed on. You can read more about the different types of hormonal treatment on our endometriosis condition page.
Over-the-counter painkillers with a strong anti-inflammatory agent (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen, can help in providing a fast-acting temporary pain relief method since they prevent the body from producing prostaglandins. Prostaglandins happen naturally in the body and are responsible for making the womb contract during menstruation, causing more pain for women with endometriosis.
Many people with the condition have found that taking NSAIDs a few days before they know their period or pain is due has proven to be the most effective since the pain medication begins taking effect before the body produces its prostaglandins. Taking the medication with food or drink is recommended to avoid stomach upset.
You can use a period tracker app, of which there are many available in the App Store, to help understand when you are likely to experience pain or bleeding during your cycle and take the medication accordingly.
Standard painkillers like paracetamol may be effective for those with mild endometriosis pain, though many complain that it is not enough. As such, some women will choose to use stronger painkillers such as codeine, but these may actually contribute to discomfort since known side-effects are constipation or gastrointestinal issues. It is important to point out that each person is different and what works for one may not be effective for another.
Pain modifying drugs
Your GP may also recommend taking tricyclic antidepressants, such as Amitriptyline, which is normally used for depression but can also help manage pain. They work by changing the way the body perceives pain, by preventing pain messages from reaching the brain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines are attached to the skin and emit vibrations using electrodes, which can help reduce pain and also relax the muscles. These small machines are available to purchase online, or you may be given the opportunity to try them out during a physiotherapy session. They are not painful but may tickle when in action. Be sure to check with your GP at the whether you are suitable, as some people with heart conditions or who may be pregnant should not use TENS machines.
Pelvic massages for several minutes daily can really help to reduce stress and ease pain symptoms. Simply lie down on your bed and massage lavender, rosemary or castor oil into the abdomen using your hands and moving them in a circular motion until you feel the muscles relaxing and pain reduced. You can also have your partner do this for you, which can lead to better intimacy and allow you to feel closer to one another.
Heat and relaxation
Placing a heat source on the pelvic area has been known to ease milder pain symptoms, as it can relax the muscles and work to reduce cramps. You may not think it will be overly effective, but a warm bath or strategically placed hot water bottle or heat pad can indeed work wonders on a sore body. It can seem like an impossible task when you find yourself in a world of pain, but trying to remain as calm, relaxed and comfortable as possible will help reduce stress too.
Natural or home remedies
There are a number of natural home remedies for pain relief which many people with endometriosis swear by. Taking care of one’s mental and physical health and reducing stress and anxiety by practicing good self-care, meditating, yoga, regular exercise, eating healthily and working on breathing techniques may help.
Herbal teas which do not contain caffeine, such as ginger, chamomile and green teas have been known to help with stress relief and reduce inflammation. Ginger tea, in particular, can reduce nausea, a symptom many people with endometriosis also experience.
Castor oil is another natural remedy that many people with the condition rely on to help ease pain from cramps by relaxing the pelvic muscles, though it should be used before menstruation. You can massage it into the abdomen and use in combination with a relaxing oil like lavender.
Omega3 fatty acids are your friend and will reduce inflammation, whilst strengthening the immune system – you can take these as daily supplements.
Research has shown that turmeric, which has strong anti-inflammatory characteristics, may have the ability to help prevent endometrial growth. As such, some people choose to drink tea with turmeric in or take turmeric supplements to ease pain symptoms.
If you are somewhat open-minded you might also want to try a technique like acupuncture as a tool to help manage pain.
Changing your diet may not be an effective way to quickly ease pain, but long-term you are likely to notice a difference. Simply switching to a healthier diet and lifestyle, by eating more fruit and vegetable and organic, fresh produce can really help.
Moreover, there are several foods which have certain anti-inflammatory properties so greater intake is recommended. These include; green, leafy vegetables, particularly celery and broccoli; blueberries, salmon, ginger and chia seeds.
Likewise, many types of food and drink can contribute to inflammation and therefore pain associated with endometriosis. That being said, types of food to avoid (or at least cut down on) include dairy products, processed foods, sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol.
No one-size-fits-all for endometriosis pain relief
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing endometriosis pain. Every woman is different and the severity of the condition affects each person in different ways. Pain management with endometriosis is about trial and error and finding the techniques which work best for you.
If various pain relief methods do not ease severe symptoms after a long while, it may be time to consider undergoing surgical treatment, such as laparoscopy, laparotomy or hysterectomy. You can discuss all of these with a gynaecologist who specialises in endometriosis.