Endometriosis and Menopause

Endometriosis affects one out of every ten women causing pain and reproductive challenges. Tissue that normally grows inside the uterine lining (or the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. When the tissue grows inside the uterus, it is shed each time a woman has a menstrual cycle, but when the tissue forms on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and elsewhere, there is no way for it to exit the body so it commonly causes lesions and scarring on these organs. It is a disease commonly associated with younger women causing painful periods, infertility, excessive bleeding, painful bowel movements, and painful intercourse, but it is a misconception to believe that endometriosis and menopause do not occur simultaneously.

Endometriosis During Menopause

Menopause, typically affecting women between the ages of 45 and 55, is diagnosed when periods have ceased for 12 consecutive months. Fluctuating hormonal levels are a common occurrence during this phase of a woman's life so hot flashes, weight gain, vaginal dryness, thinning hair, sleep problems, mood changes, and other debilitating symptoms can occur. To combat these, some women are prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT can be a double-edged sword because it helps with typical menopausal symptoms, but the hormones can also aggravate endometriosis. Even if a woman is not undergoing HRT, she may still be producing enough hormones to trigger painful endometriosis.

Except as noted above, it is generally true that menopause can stop the endometrial tissue from forming outside the uterus. However, it does not alleviate the problem of existing lesions or scars that have already manifested and can cause significant pain. A woman may need to have this scar tissue surgically removed to become symptom and pain-free.

Surprisingly, if a menopausal woman had a hysterectomy to combat endometriosis during her reproductive years, she may also have lingering problems. While most of the lesions may have been removed during the hysterectomy, it is still possible that others were not removed and could create problems that necessitate surgical removal.

While there is no cure for endometriosis, the increased awareness associated with early diagnosis and treatment of it has led to the discovery of successful invasive and noninvasive remedies. Surgery, mentioned above, is the most severe remedy; however, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can assist with pain management. Natural remedies such as acupuncture, physical therapy, and pelvic massage may help also. Organic food choices that are naturally free of hormones could be considered as a dietary way of minimizing endometriosis.

As with all phases of life, maintaining a healthy diet, fitness regimen, and a collaborative and close relationship with a doctor not only help with managing endometriosis and menopause but all health conditions. Also, the menopausal woman should minimize alcohol consumption and stop smoking for optimal health during this phase of life.