Endometriosis is a common and painful chronic disease that affects at least 1 in 10 women. It can be difficult to diagnose; many people spend years seeking a diagnosis for their severe pain and other symptoms. Endometriosis can drastically impact your quality of life, which may leave you wondering if it can be prevented.
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows in abnormal locations. Endometrial cells are normally only found in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Endometriosis lesions, sometimes called endometriosis implants, commonly occur on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and peritoneum (lining of the pelvic and abdominal cavities). Endometriosis lesions can also be found on the bladder, intestines, and cervix. Endometriosis can also form painful and dangerous cysts called endometriomas.
Endometriosis symptoms include:
Endometriosis is still poorly understood, despite decades of research. The underlying cause of endometriosis is not clear, but some risk factors are known. A family history of endometriosis and increased estrogen exposure are both known to contribute to the development of endometriosis. Estrogen exposure is higher in individuals who begin menstruating early, have long menstrual periods, and who enter menopause later in life.
Sadly, endometriosis cannot be prevented. However, there are certain things that you can do that may lower your risk of developing endometriosis and help decrease the severity of symptoms if you do develop endometriosis.
While there is no way to prevent endometriosis, there are things you can do that may lower your risk.
Hormonal contraception, including birth control pills and injected or implanted birth control, can potentially decrease your chance of developing endometriosis. Hormonal birth control includes combination birth control, which has both estrogen and a progestin (synthetic progesterone), and progestin-only birth control. These lower estrogen levels, preventing the normal hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle.
Hormonal birth control is used to treat mild cases of endometriosis and to treat people who have painful or irregular periods. Speak to your doctor about which birth control options are best for you based on your specific needs.
Exercise has many benefits: It plays an important role in weight management, and it has been shown to reduce inflammation. Exercise can help improve symptoms of endometriosis and may help reduce the occurrence of endometriosis.
Inflammation and the immune system play a significant part in how endometriosis symptoms develop. Getting the exercise that your body needs to be healthy may reduce your chances of developing endometriosis and can definitely help improve existing endometriosis symptoms.
Getting proper exercise doesn’t mean pushing yourself to your physical limits. Simply taking a walk around the block or taking the stairs rather than the elevator can be a good start toward getting more physical activity. Activities such as yoga are great exercise options that can be adapted for people of varying levels of fitness and mobility.
In addition to getting proper exercise, eating a healthy and complete diet is essential in maintaining a healthy body. Diet changes have been recommended to improve endometriosis symptoms and may help prevent endometriosis by reducing inflammation and estrogen levels. Alcohol is known to worsen endometriosis symptoms in many people and may increase the risk of endometriosis.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to many chronic diseases, including endometriosis. Not getting enough vitamin D may increase your chances of developing endometriosis. Vitamin D can be found in many fortified foods, as well as in beef liver, egg yolk, salmon, and other foods. Vitamin D3 supplements are also available over the counter.
A significant proportion of people have lower than optimal levels of vitamin D. Many doctors have begun testing vitamin D levels as part of routine blood work; if you have not had your vitamin D levels checked, ask your primary care provider to have them tested.
Pregnancy, hysterectomy, and eliminating soy do not prevent endometriosis from developing or cure endometriosis that is already diagnosed.
Pregnancy does not cure endometriosis. Since estrogen levels are lower during pregnancy, symptoms usually improve or disappear — but only while you are pregnant. In addition, the high levels of progesterone during pregnancy may help alleviate some of the symptoms of endometriosis. Symptoms return when estrogen and progesterone levels go back to normal. Delaying pregnancy also cannot prevent endometriosis. Research has found no correlation between the age of a first pregnancy and the onset of endometriosis.
Hysterectomy does not cure endometriosis. Removing both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy), however, can relieve symptoms of endometriosis because the ovaries are the primary estrogen-producing organs. A hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy along with excision of all endometriosis lesions from the body is an effective treatment for endometriosis, but it is only considered when symptoms are severe and do not respond to other treatments. This treatment has many undesired effects, including infertility.
Eliminating soy from your diet will not treat or cure endometriosis. Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, estrogen-like hormones produced by plants. Research has found no evidence that eating soy has any effect on endometriosis. However, soy is a significant cause of food allergies and the eighth most common food allergy in adults. Food allergies can cause a variety of abdominal symptoms, including nausea, bloating, and pain — all common symptoms of endometriosis.
While there is no surefire way to prevent endometriosis, there are steps you can take to better your odds. Whether getting enough exercise or improving your diet will actually help keep you from getting endometriosis is not clear, but these steps can improve other aspects of your health and well-being.
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