Acupuncture for Endometriosis

Written By: Lori Early LAc, MAOM, MS, DiplOM

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In 2010, I started experiencing sharp pains following intercourse, sometimes before or during bowel movements, and nearly always during my monthly flow.  At the time, I was a student of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, in the midst of my studies learning how acupuncture and herbal therapy can help heal (not just mask) debilitating conditions.  I began to question my own gynecological health due to the debilitating pain I experienced associated with my cycle, but I wasn’t ready to move forward with an endoscopy to know for sure whether what I was experiencing was actually endometriosis or not.  Not yet…

Endometriosis is an often painful gynecological disorder in which the uterine lining (the cells of the womb) begin to proliferate outside of the womb itself, like the bowels, the abdomen, and in rare cases even the brain and lungs, which can lead to severe and sometimes fatal events.

Western Medicine provides a few options: hormonal supplementation, like birth control, anti-inflammatories, or surgery; however, none of these fix the condition, and only suppress it for a time.  In fact, some women need surgery to remove the endometriosis as often as every 9 months.  No thank you, I wanted see how Chinese Medicine may be able to help me first.

Chinese Medicine looks at the body from a completely different perspective, taking a more holistic approach by considering patient history, diet and nutrition, emotional health, and stress levels.  Looking for patterns based on what symptoms are present, a skilled Chinese Medicine practitioner can determine the underlying cause of endometriosis (or whatever else may be ailing you).  Chinese Medicine also has helpful (non-invasive) diagnostic tools that can nearly always help make a diagnosis of endometriosis, like pulse taking and tongue diagnosis.  In fact, fast forward from 2010 to 2016, as I am sitting in a Medical Pulse Diagnosis seminar in Seattle, I learned the “endometriosis pulse”, which is a pretty cool tool to have when assessing the severity of endometriosis in my patients.

There are various root causes for endometriosis in Chinese Medicine, but for simplification sake, it really comes down to “blood stagnation” or “stuck blood” in which there is a lack of healthy blood flow to the area.  In my case, which is common with many women, a major culprit was due to a lifetime of being exposed to a cold environment.  I was a competitive swimmer through most of my childhood and adolescence, and the 5am daily swims in uncomfortably cold water eventually made their impact of my health.  Interestingly, being exposed to cold during adolescence, and specifically while on your cycle, such as sitting on a cold gym floor in shorts while on your period can create what we call in Chinese Medicine a “cold uterus”.  This can also happen during C-sections, as our uterus is open to the cold air and instruments of the operating room.  (Sure enough, my pain got much worse after my C-section.)

Our wombs love warmth, and when coldness invades, it stagnates blood circulation, creating painful periods with dark flow and clots.  When there is any sort of stagnation in blood flow, regardless of the area, pain is created.  Although cold invasion isn’t the only underlying cause of endometriosis, it happens to be a familiar story I hear from many of my female patients. 

Other things that compound pain and inflammation of endometriosis are:

  • stress, commonly referred to in Chinese Medicine lingo as “qi stagnation”
  • eating inflammatory foods, especially dairy, processed foods, sugars, and non-organic meat (especially hormone-treated meat)
  • intercourse during your cycle

With the help of herbs and acupuncture, my pain began to alleviate with each progressive cycle.  Today, the pain is both rare and minimal.  So, how was that possible?  Here’s the scoop…

Chinese herbs can help break down the endometrial tissue, promote healthy blood flow, and even warm the uterus (if that’s indicated).  Acupuncture is a gentle, yet powerful healing modality that can help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, promote healthy blood flow, regulate hormones, and calm the nervous system.  Calming the nervous system is a key factor to healing, as the body can maintain homeostasis, self-regulation and restoration only when the body is in the parasympathetic state (or the relaxed state).  Acupuncture also tends to have a slew of much-welcomed “side effects”, such as improved sleep, diminished headaches, decreased PMS symptoms, heathier digestion, less stress and anxiety,  and an overall happier mood. 

In summary, here are ways to help ease endometriosis:

  • Reduce stress (I’m a yoga advocate because it is great for body flow and movement and also reduces stress.  And, of course, acupuncture is golden for this too!).
  • Eat consciously: include lots of fruits and vegetables (preferably cooked veggies, especially during Fall and Winter).  Say no to dairy, processed foods, excess sugars, and hormone-treated meat.  Why cooked veggies?  Because raw food is cold in nature (salads, most fruits, sushi, juices, smoothies, etc.), and when raw foods are ingested, they create more cold in the body; thus, more stagnation, perpetuating the pain and the problem.
  • Acupuncture weekly (or as suggested by your Chinese Medicine practitioner/Licensed Acupuncturist)
  • Take your herbs.  They may be nasty, but they’re great for your health.
  • Try cupping!  This is one of my favorite modalities to use for anyone dealing with endometriosis, as it not only relaxes the muscle tension and feels A-MAZ-ING, but by creating suction to muscles and fascia, healthy and oxygenated blood can circulate where there has been blood stagnation.  This therapy isn’t for everyone, and should only be performed by a licensed practitioner who understands and has diagnosed the underlying cause of your endometriosis.

*If you live in the Houston area and are interested in cupping, acupuncture or learning more about Chinese Medicine, please visit Phoenix Rising Acupuncture and schedule an appointment with Lori.

My Personal Endo Journey

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I have a confession to make. A big one…

I’m 32 years old and I have endometriosis.

This was not a diagnosis I came upon quickly. In fact, it took me 14 years to get a proper diagnosis, another year to have laparoscopic surgery, and still another 3 years to find a doctor who specialized in excision surgery.

It wasn’t until summer of 2017 that I started putting two and two together and realized I’ve been sick since shortly after starting my period at the age of 14. I’ve continually suffered from major migraines since age 8. They had gotten a worse over the years, but I didn’t think much of it.  My periods were getting worse as well. I’d always had horribly painful periods, but they were never heavy or seemed to last very long. I considered myself very lucky since so many women in my family had to alter their lives around their periods due to their heavy flow and debilitating pain. Those things aren’t what made me start wondering what the heck was wrong with my body. Can you believe that??? What I did notice, and what finally made me take notice, was a huge drop in my energy levels. Sure, I was still very active and involved in sports, but I was finding it harder and harder to get up each morning. Sometimes I’d force myself to go on a run after volleyball practice because I needed to prove to myself that my body was capable of being active when it felt like all I wanted to do was sleep. It was a battle, but because I’m stubborn and maybe a bit hard-headed, I learned to adopt the ‘mind over matter’ mindset at a very young age, mind you my sickness started, or rather the symptoms at age 14.  Some days my lack of energy was so high that getting through the day was a chore. Next, I started having digestive issues. I tried to eat a little healthier, but at that age 14 I thought a salad with ranch dressing and cheddar cheese was the epitome of healthy eating. I had never heard of gluten, dairy, or sugars being bad for you. In fact, I didn’t know what gluten was until my late 20’s, or that diary may not be the best thing for you (so much for the ‘glass of milk a day’ bill of goods I was sold as a child).

When I was in my mid 20’s my symptoms became worse seemingly overnight. This began my treacherous journey of trying to figure out what was making me feel so terrible. For a few years I felt like I was on a witch hunt.  Doctor after doctor, prescription after prescription. Being told I’m fine, being told I’m depressed. I could write a laundry list of the tests I was constantly enduring, and the litany of improper diagnoses I received. The worst part was, they could never find anything “wrong” with me. Nothing is wrong with me. Sounds great, right??? Wrong. Nothing makes you feel crazier than knowing something is wrong with your body, and having a doctor - the one who is supposed to ‘fix’ you - tell you you’re wrong.  I knew without a doubt that something was absolutely not right in my body.  After seeing the same doctor several times with the same ‘you’re fine’ result, he started to take me seriously.  However, he didn’t have any answers for me.  He finally told me that he did believe I was sick, but that I ‘presented’ healthy and would need to find a doctor who has seen exactly what issues I ‘m showing in another seemingly healthy person. I know it sounds crazy but just that one utterance helped me to feel slightly vindicate and also empowered, I was going to find out what was wrong with me.  The problem, like so many other women with this disease, I didn’t know where to start, what doctor do I try next, how do I get a referral, how the heck do I afford to pay for this, the list goes on. 

Readersbefore I continue, I must encourage you to trust yourselves and trust your bodies.  You know you better than any doctor ever will.  When a young, fit, seemingly healthy individual walks into a doctor’s office and complains of pain, and there’s not a clear and immediate answer, you can be written off simply because you ‘appear’ healthy.  You are your own best advocate.  And you need to be.  Keep digging for answers.  End rant.  Sorry

Back to my story. I’ll save you all the details of the doctors I saw, the tests I had run, the money I spent that still gave me no answers.  I was defeated and still feeling very sick.  At this point in my journey, it had been about 3 years of consistently searching for help. I’d completely changed my diet, I’d gone off birth control and had seen every doctor I could think of to try and figure out what was wrong with me. I finally went back to my gynecologist and said something was wrong with my stomach or reproductive system and I NEED you to figure out what it is.  At this point, I’d really had enough and couldn’t keep living like this. I felt like I was going mental because I was continually told I was ‘fine.’  

And then….. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!!!!! My doctor said, “I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this sooner, you may have endometriosis.”  I’m thinking to myself ‘oh really?’  But wait no.  I already knew what endometriosis was because my sister was unable to stay pregnant due to endo.  Our symptoms, however, were so different that it had never crossed my mind I could have the same thing. SIDE NOTE:  I’m happy to report that after one laparoscopy (and some fertility drugs), my sister was and was able to conceive twins mere weeks after her surgery!  She was fixed ‘so good’ that she then conceived again when the twins were just 5 months old (yes, her house is complete chaos – in a good way).  

Long story short, I had surgery and I had endo lesions, lots of endo lesions.  The funny thing I learned is that endometriosis can’t be officially diagnosed until the surgeon is actually in your abdomen. It’s basically an ‘exploratory’ surgery because you don’t know what you’ll find when you get in there. My first doctor performed ablation surgery (burning the endometrial lesions- unfortunately I hadn’t educated myself enough to know better) and then he told me I was better. I’m sure you can imagine my relief!  Unfortunately, that was short lived. I never had my pain free moment like I was hoping, and I ended up feeling worse very shortly after surgery, and by shortly I’m talking like a week, tops. When I spoke to my doctor, he told me there was no way, he’d removed the endo and I was better.  I trusted him (he was my doctor after all, and they know everything. Insert eye roll here), yet I continued to feel terrible. I just didn’t know where to turn. Sadly, I’ve learned that many women can relate to this story.  

My disease finally came to a head last year while I was planning my wedding. What was supposed to be the happiest time in my life was turning into one of the most painful, frustrating times. I told my fiancé (now husband), that after the wedding I HAD TO consult with an endometriosis specialist.  Something had clearly taken a turn for the worse in my body, and I was just hoping I could make it through my wedding (not what I’d envisioned being a bride would feel like). I was lucky there for awhile, and through diet I was able to get my endo belly to go down enough that I felt comfortable wearing my wedding dress (we all know how bad the dreaded endo belly can get). Little did I know how short lived that would be.  Between starting birth control again, and going off my anti-inflammatory diet, I ended up having the worst flare of my life to date (while in NZ on our honeymoon).  

I told myself that flare up was because I was on my honeymoon. You know, lots of newlywed things (haha), bad foods, cocktails, etc. Once I got home everything would be better right? Wrong. After returning to the states and my regular diet, I was still not feeling well.  I started having crippling back pain and figured I must have pulled my back out. One night when the pain was so intense it woke me up at 2am, I KNEW something had to change.  I’m 31 years old, I cannot be losing sleep and feeling sick 100% of the time. I fired up my laptop and didn’t go back to sleep that night. Instead I googled and sought every ounce of information I could find about endometriosis. I can’t tell you how much this Ted Talk impacted my life and encouraged me to advocate for myself and for my health.

Y’all, when I am on a mission, I am a dang detective and there is nothing me and my computer cannot track down (just ask my ex boyfriends, haha kidding…kinda). After hours of searching, scheduling consults with doctors, and ordering “The Doctor will see you now,” I felt like I was finally going to do something about this – there would be no more dead ends for me.  I learned the difference between ablation and excision surgery (the gold standard for endo removal) and realized I must see an excision specialist.  To learn more about the differences please read HERE. I scheduled an appoint with Dr. Tamer Seckin, we were on opposite coasts but at this point I figured I would make the trips to NYC if this Doctor could finally be the one to help me.

After consulting with Dr. Seckin and scheduling my second laparoscopy for endo, I almost chickened out. Not because I was afraid of the surgery, but I was afraid they wouldn’t find anything. I was afraid I’d waste money.  I was replaying all the “you’re okay’s” I’d received from doctors in the past.  I was afraid that this would be another dead end. I was afraid I’d waste more money and still not know what is going on.  

Looking back, I almost laugh at myself. I had already been diagnosed with endo.  I knew I had it but I let all the years of failed doctor’s visits and negativity creep in.  My husband and I prayed about it.  We both knew deep down this was the right – and possibly only – option for me to feel better because I refused to try any other drugs to “help” endo.

Now, to the good part!  

Surgery was scheduled for October 20th, 2017.  I was so anxious the night before I didn’t sleep a wink; partially because I was still worried they wouldn’t find anything, and partially because, well, the bowel prep was getting the best of me (I’m sure my endo sisters can relate, woof).  The morning of surgery was a whirlwind and I just couldn’t wait to get a move on.   In my mind this was what I’d been waiting for.  When I woke up from surgery, the first memory I have was Ryan (my husband), and Dr. Seckin, standing at the end of my bed.  Ryan was so excited.  He was holding an envelope and turned around with the biggest grin and told me they took out 31 lesions, as well as my appendix (which was not on the agenda).  He told me I was COVERED in this junk! When I was a little more coherent Ryan started showing me the pictures of my surgery. He was so excited to tell me all the places they found it and show me my bad appendix.  He then said “babe, you were really, really sick.”  Here’s where I finally felt vindicated!! Hearing that they found and removed all those lesions made me want to cry, and this time, happy tears.  Not only that, I felt profoundly different immediately after surgery.  Yes, I was in pain, but it was a totally different pain.  It was pain from being operated on, pain from suspending my ovary, not the long list of pains I came in with.  It felt like poison had literally been removed from my body.  It’s funny because an hour after my operation, Ryan looked over at me and said, “I know this sounds crazy, but you look healthier, your skin looks good and you just look good, you look relieved.”  It felt so nice to hear because for the first time in a long time when he said I looked good, I actually felt good!

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I have the best husband - I truly won the lottery with him - but I’d be lying if I said this disease didn’t create some very tense moments in our relationship and early into our marriage.  It is hard on a spouse when they see you hurting and can’t do anything about it.  It is even hard sometimes for them to believe you’re sick, or as sick as you are.  I like to think I’m tough.  I power through what feels like a million things a day, so it’s hard to think that I could feel anything less than great.  But then when I let my guard down, when the pain finally wins, Ryan sees.  He sees that sometimes it’s non-stop.  That is not easy for anyone - it’s not easy for those of us living with the disease, or for our loved ones dealing with the affects of the disease.  In that moment right after surgery, I felt like Ryan really understood my struggle and I felt the most supported I ever had.  I finally felt like I wasn’t crazy!

I know this disease is something I will always live with. I know I will have bad days.  I know I will have to adjust my supplements, and sometimes I will need to miss out on social events and go to bed early.  I know now that I need to always follow an anti-inflammatory diet, , limit my wine intake (whyyyyyy) and that I have to be pretty regimented with my schedule, diet, and workout routines.  It’s a big commitment, and to be honest, some days I simply don’t feel like doing it.  However, I know that my health is too important to take the easy way out, and I NEVER want to feel the way I did last year ever again.

I’m so thankful that I found Dr. Seckin.  He understood this disease, and me, more than anyone I have ever encountered.  In short, he gave me my life back!  He helped me more in the 3 weeks than the 17 years of constant doctor visits.  It takes women an average of 10 years from onset of symptoms to proper diagnosis. If you think you have endo or know someone who does, don’t give up!  Find the right doctors for you.  Find doctors that take your insurance or have financial assistance programs.  Join support groups.  Try changing your diet.  Try yoga.  Try Eastern medicine.  Try until you find what works for you!  You deserve to be heard,  to feel healthy, and to live a happy life despite this nasty disease!

To all my endo sisters, keep fighting, and keep being rock stars!  Share your stories, help educate, we are all in this together, and we can be a voice and a community for each other!!

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What is endometriosis?

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Endometriosis is a medical condition that occurs in women and affects the reproductive system, causing tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus to grow outside the uterus. The two main symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility, and the tissue associated with the condition are usually referred to as endometriosis patches, implants, nodules, or lesions. The disease is often found on or under the ovaries, on the fallopian tubes, behind the uterus, on the tissues that hold the uterus in place, on the bowels or bladder, and in some rare cases on the lungs or in other parts of the body.

There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments that ease the symptoms. The causes for the development of endometriosis are not fully understood, but there are theories about it.
(via www.endometriosisnews.com)


How common is endo?

six and 10% of women who are of reproductive age suffer from endometriosis — the equivalent to five million women in the US alone.  Hence the popular slogan, 1 in 10. (via www.endometriosisnews.com)

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Is there a cure?

No, however there are several options for symptom management, it is often a long journey of trial and error to see what works for each woman.


What are common symptoms of endo?

In addition to pain and infertility, the symptoms of the disease include painful, even debilitating, menstrual cramps that can get worse over time, pain during or after sex, pain in the intestine or lower abdomen, painful bowel movements or painful urination during menstrual periods, heavy menstrual periods, premenstrual spotting or bleeding between periods, painful bladder syndrome, digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, tiredness, and lack of energy. (via www.endometriosisnews.com)


How can I be diagnosed?

Currently the only way to get an accurate endometriosis diagnosis is via laparoscopic surgery.  It is usually called an exploratory surgery, if they see endometriosis, they will then excise it or remove it via ablation. `

Scans such as an ultrasound and MRI are often done as it will occasionally show up on there, but it also lets a doctor know if there are cysts or adenomyosis they need to be aware of also when performing surgery.


What kind of surgery is best for endo?

The gold standard is excision surgery.  This removes the lesions entirely opposed to just burning them off.  Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease so often times ablation just exacerbates the disease.

More info on this here: https://www.obgproject.com/2017/06/11/laparoscopic-excision-vs-ablation-treating-endometriosis-associated-pain/

*Before trying any drug for endometriosis please research it extensively as the most commonly prescribed drug has many negative side effects and they’re often irreversible.

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Below are websites that were integral in helping me advocate for myself when realizing how debilitating this disease can become. I still refer to these and try and educate myself as much as I possibly can. They are discovering stuff almost daily about this disease. Your best course of action is to stay on top of what is happening and then advocate for yourself. Knowledge really is power when it comes to this disease! You are your own best resource and advocate! 

WEBSITES:

Support groups: