By Paul M. Dake, M.D.
Q: I am 47 years old and have had lower abdominal pain with my periods for about 25 years. I also had problems becoming pregnant when my husband and I decided to start a family. My doctor told me he thought I might have endometriosis, but didn’t have time to explain much about it. What is it, and is there anything I can do about it?
A: Endometriosis occurs when small bits of the lining of the uterus are found elsewhere in the body, usually scattered around the abdominal cavity, most often on the ovaries and ligaments that hold the uterus in its normal position. However, in some severe cases, the growths have been found in almost any organ, even the lungs.
A definite cause of this condition is not known at this time. Your history of symptoms is rather typical, including the relative infertility. The growths are generally painful mainly around the time of a period and treatments that stop periods completely are the ones that are most effective in stopping the discomfort women with this problem suffer, such as removal of the ovaries and medications that stop the normal fluctuations of estrogen in the body.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as over-the-counter ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), have been shown to help, but they have to be started 4-5 days before the expected start of a period to be maximally effective.
Some benefit has been shown from certain supplements (fenugreek, fish oil, vitamin B-1, ginger, valerian, & zinc) and foods (fruits & vegetables, dairy products, & gluten-free foods). A diet rich in red meat and ham should, however, be avoided. It is worth pointing out that the evidence for dietary measures is limited.
You can learn more about this and many other medical problems by visiting the familydoctor.org website, clicking on Diseases and Conditions, and typing in the disease of interest in the text box on the first screen.
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