March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, so let's talk a little about endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition in which endometrial tissue which usually lines the inside of the uterus (womb) grows outside the uterus, commonly affecting the ovaries, bowel or tissue lining the pelvis. In rare cases, it will spread beyond the pelvis.
Even though this endometrial tissue is now outside the uterus, it continues to act as though inside and so it thickens, breaks down and bleeds during each menstrual cycle. This tissue becomes trapped as it has no way to exit. Surrounding tissue may become irritated, eventually leading to the development of scar tissue and adhesions.
The main symptom associated with endometriosis is pelvic pain, primarily around the time of the menses. Other symptoms include: painful intercourse, pain with bowel movements or urination, heavy periods, bleeding between periods, and infertility.
In addition to treatments which may include: painkillers, hormone therapy and surgery to remove endometrial growths, scar tissue and adhesions. Chinese medicine offers treatment which can help with the management of the complications associated with this condition. Three primary approaches are taken to aid in the relief of pain and the symptoms of discomfort and heaviness in the pelvis, regulating the menses, in order to minimise heavy bleeding and improving chances of pregnancy where infertility is a concern.
Acupuncture & moxibustion
The primary acupuncture points used are those along the Chong Mai, Ren Mai and Dai Mai meridians. These meridians are pathways in the body that are used to help break up adhesions or obstructions in and around the pelvic area. Extremely thin acupuncture needles are gently inserted and stimulated at these acupuncture points to address symptoms.
Moxibustion involves the application of warmth using the moxa/mugwort herb at specific acupuncture points. In the treatment of endometriosis, moxa is placed on acupuncture points in the pelvic area, stimulating the movement of qi and blood and thus helping with pain relief.
Herbal formulas comprise primarily of herbs called blood invigorators. These herbs are used to break up masses, cysts, adhesions and generally any kind of obstruction in the pelvis. Commonly used herbs include:
Tao Ren (Semen Persicae/Peach Kernel)
Chi Shao (Red Peony Root)
Mu Li (Oyster Shell)
Mo Yao (Myrrh)
Hong Hua (Safflower Flower)
A number of dietary recommendations are made to ease symptoms. Key recommendations include the elimination or reduced consumption of:
For many women, endometriosis means extreme pain, and the added insult of social and professional challenges because of missed days at work and the problems it may present in intimate relationships. In some cases, it is a debilitating condition, and so networks of support become an important component in the management of this condition.
One such avenue is through the newly launched Shauna Fuller Clarke's BASE Foundation, which offers support to Jamaican women living with endometriosis by increasing awareness, providing information, promoting research and offering financial assistance through its network of health professionals, volunteers and sponsors.
Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.