According to a recent study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), roughly 15% of women of childbearing age in the United States reported experiencing pelvic pain that lasted at least six months. Extend these studies outside the borders of the U.S., and we find that worldwide, the rates of chronic pelvic pain amongst this same demographic of women increases to up to 32%. For many women, endometriosis is to blame. Often gone undiagnosed, this illness affects 1 in 10 women, and its impact on daily life can be devastating.
“Endometriosis is often called an invisible illness because it is commonly misdiagnosed in women and proper diagnosis can be severely delayed,” explains Dr. Lisa Erhard, a board-certified gynecologist, and women’s health expert. “The condition occurs when the tissue lining the uterus begins to extend and grow on other organs in the lower abdomen and pelvic area, sometimes resulting in scarring,” she continues. “Endometriosis can cause intense pelvic pain and have huge implications for women who are trying to conceive.”
The average delay in diagnosis for a woman with endometriosis is 7 to 10 years. Many women begin to experience symptoms in their early teens after menstruation has commenced. As a result, the pain women suffer is commonly written off as severe menstrual cramps.
“The pain these women experience on a daily basis can be debilitating,” says Dr. Lisa, shaking her head. “Regarding diagnosis, these women often have to become their own advocates and seek several medical opinions before getting the answers and treatment they need,” she goes on. “Yes, there are surgical options to treat endometriosis, but I often start patients off with a series of lifestyle tips that can dramatically improve their symptoms.”
#1 Focus on Your Breath
Think about the last time you experienced pain. Do you find yourself holding your breath just thinking about it? Research shows that we tend to hold our breath and breath shallowly when we experience pain. Unfortunately, this can make symptoms worse by elevating blood pressure.
“Deep breathing calms and soothes your nervous system,” advises Dr. Lisa. “Besides, deep ‘belly breathing’ can help stretch and lengthen the muscles in your pelvic area and release some tension.”
#2 Experiment with Your Diet
When you are already experiencing pain, the last thing you want to do is add inflammation to your body. Gluten and sugar do just that! When our bodies metabolize these ingredients, our intestines and gut can become inflamed and make pelvic pain flare up. Up to 75 percent of women with endometriosis who eliminate gluten from their diet notice a marked improvement in pain symptoms.
“To further counteract inflammation, I encourage women to double, if not TRIPLE, their intake of green, leafy veggies like broccoli and spinach,” shares Dr. Lisa. “Not only do these vegetables decrease inflammation, but they also boost gut and hormonal health!”
#3 Get Physical
One of the best things you can do to lessen pelvic pain is to get moving! Activities like yoga are exceptionally beneficial for conditions like endometriosis because they stretch the very muscles that tend to cramp and tense with the illness. Also, the relaxed mental state that yoga can induce helps calm anxiety and tension.
“I encourage stretching and yoga for my patients experiencing pelvic pain, but strength training is equally important,” relays Dr. Lisa. “Women with pelvic pain need to build strength in the muscles that surround their pelvic area, like the abdominals and buttocks, to build a strong foundation of core support.”
#4 Learn to Relax Your Pelvic Floor
It can be challenging to enjoy sex when you’re experiencing pelvic pain. 50% of women with endometriosis experience painful sex. Learning exercises to relax and release your pelvic floor muscle before proceeding with intercourse can improve intimacy with your partner and restore your enjoyment of sex.
#5 Take a Stand Against Stress
“Stress elevates levels of a hormone called cortisol,” explains Dr. Lisa. “Cortisol increases inflammation and inflammation heightens pain,” she continues. “To make matters worse, cortisol, when overproduced, causes your endocrine system to blow through progesterone, which may make periods heavier and more painful. Women with pelvic pain need to explore ways to manage their stress in a healthy way to improve their painful symptoms.”
#6 Embrace the Empowerment of Education
Pain can make you feel isolated and like a prisoner of your own body. But the more you understand your condition and how your body responds to pain, the better you feel. Getting to understand your pelvic pain can help reduce the anxiety and fear you may now associate with it.
#7 Start the Conversation & Get Support
Many women suffer for years with pelvic pain and never seek treatment because they assume the pain may be their new “normal.”
“I know it’s tough to start this conversation,” says Dr. Lisa, “but there is no reason to feel alone or embarrassed. Beyond the treatments and suggestions that I can offer, I also strongly recommend that women join online support groups to talk about their experiences with other women and gain support. It’s so important to seek treatment, but it is also crucial that you understand that you are not alone!”
Are you currently suffering from pelvic pain? Have you been diagnosed with endometriosis? Learn about new treatment therapies that may benefit you by scheduling a consultation with Dr. Lisa Erhard at Wayzata Cosmetic Surgery & Spa.