I Tried 8 Things for Endometriosis Pain Relief. Here's How I Rated Them.
Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.
Finding relief from the widespread pain and discomfort associated with endometriosis can be, well… a crapshoot. Because each individual experiences unique combinations of symptoms at different times which appear to be triggered by seemingly random things, finding what works often involves trial and error. And relief may involve a combination of both medical and nonmedical interventions in various combinations which can make the consultation process combative at times, pitting medical practitioners at odds with more holistic integrative approaches.
Over the decades, I have tried more remedies than I can count. Some gave me some modicum of relief, others either didn’t do anything or made things worse. And some things may have worked for a while but then stopped working for one reason or another. Below is a list of the top eight things I tried in no particular order. For each, I will provide a rating from one star ⭐ (Awful) to five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Great) and an explanation for what I experienced and why I rated it that way.
1. Birth Control Pill: Combination Lo/ovral-28⭐⭐
I started taking birth control pills when I turned 16. It was one of the first remedies for my extreme menstrual pain that my then-gynecologist suggested. I had one major concern at the time — weight gain. I was a ballet dancer and struggled with maintaining my dance weight without resorting to disordered eating, so I couldn’t risk being on a pill that caused weight gain. Unfortunately, I did put on weight and although it wasn’t much, it was noticeable in a leotard and tights. It also didn’t do anything to mitigate my cramps, heavy bleeding, or shorten the length of my cycle. But I stayed on it nevertheless for 13 years, thinking if I went off I’d feel even worse. And while I didn’t experience other side effects, oral contraception can come with a host of them.
2. Birth Control Pill: Extended Cycle Pill Seasonique ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I switched to an extended cycle pill after my endometriosis diagnosis in 2003. The thought at the time was that by reducing my menstrual cycles to only four per year, I wouldn’t have to deal with the monthly flare-ups which would render me incapacitated for almost a week. From that perspective, it worked well. I still experienced other symptoms like digestive issues, bloating, and painful urination, but at least I didn’t have to deal with my periods every month. Again I did not experience any side effects from this type of contraceptive and tolerated it just fine, which is why I gave it four stars.
3. Pain Medication ⭐
This one was a constant battle and continues to be. Like many others with endometriosis, I have both IBS and acid reflux. Most anti-inflammatories which would help manage my pain make me so sick to my stomach that I can’t take them. This leaves me with Tylenol, which doesn’t help much, or prescription pain medications. I did have a prescription pain medication on hand for the worst days, but I was very reluctant to use them due to the fact that my mother was addicted to them and I had fears that I’d become addicted too. Additionally, almost all pain meds exacerbated my fairly persistent constipation, which would then end up in horrendous diarrhea as my body compensated. I felt like I had to choose between being in pain but not having stomach issues or being in less pain but being miserably backed up or stuck in the bathroom. Kind of a lose/lose choice.
4. Acupuncture ⭐
Before I explain why I ranked this as one star, I would like to preface this with the fact that acupuncture was incredibly effective in treating injuries. As a dancer, I often went to see my acupuncturist to help reduce swelling and increase circulation, both of which are great at promoting healing of things like sprained ankles and pulled muscles. However, when it came to its efficacy in managing my endometriosis pain and symptoms, I did not experience any noticeable relief. And if you are afraid of needles, which I am, acupuncture can feel a bit like being in a torture chamber on a regular basis.
5. Herbal Remedies ⭐
When you are desperate for relief from constant pain and discomfort you will try almost anything. For me, that involved a several-month stint working with an integrative doctor who made their own herbal remedies. After explaining my symptoms to this doctor, I was presented with three different bottles containing foul-smelling liquids that I was supposed to take orally by the dropper full twice daily for three months. If you could get past the smell without gagging, you’d likely feel like vomiting from the putrid taste of these elixirs. And the worst part was they gave me the worst halitosis. Because I’m a people pleaser and never quit anything without giving it a real shot at working, I suffered through that three-month stint, but it didn’t help my symptoms in the slightest. And frankly, even if it had, I’m not sure I would have continued with the regimen. It was too disgusting to tolerate in the long run.
6. Sex ⭐⭐⭐
While they say that the good chemicals released during sex, like dopamine, can reduce cortisol and act like opioids in terms of pain reduction, that presumes that sex itself isn’t uncomfortable. I think in my case, my untreated trauma surrounding sexual abuse likely negated the potential positive impact sex could have had on my pain management. That’s unfortunate but I suspect not that uncommon considering how many women have endometriosis and, of those, how many also have a history of sexual assault or abuse.
7. Laparoscopic Surgery ⭐⭐⭐
During laparoscopic surgery, the doctor can cauterize the endometrial lesions which can help minimize some of the pain and discomfort one experiences. When I had my diagnostic laparoscopy, the doctor simultaneously cleaned up what he found. I did experience some temporary relief, at least from the perspective of my urinary pain and severe menstrual cramps. Unfortunately, the lesions usually grow back, as they did in my case, and often in different places or over scar tissue, which can be even more painful.
8. Hysterectomy ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I know that this is a controversial solution and that it doesn’t cure or even help everyone who resorts to it, however, for me, hysterectomy was a game-changer. Aside from some minor post-op complications with my internal sutures not healing properly, not having to ever have a menstrual cycle flare again was huge. I felt like I had a whole new lease on life. Obviously, this is something that I only considered because I knew I didn’t want children, but that’s a serious factor in whether or not someone chooses to pursue a hysterectomy.
All in all, at this point the symptoms I still have are manageable and consist of primarily digestive issues, some urinary tract pain, and occasional cramping during what would be my menstrual cycle (my ovaries were not removed). I also will continue to have complications with any additional procedures I may need that require abdominal surgery (like having my gallbladder removed) due to the extent of the damage scar tissue has had on my internal organs. I know that new treatment options and research are resulting in better and more effective ways of managing endometriosis pain every year. In the meantime, however, hopefully, this list will help you weigh the pros and cons of the existing options based on your specific needs and circumstances.
Getty image by Chinnapong.