Endometriosis and Acupuncture

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, endometriosis affects approximately 5 to 7 million American women. Most of the women affected are between the ages of 30 and 40. Some women are debilitated by this condition, while others may have mild or no symptoms. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), including acupuncture and herbs, has been used successfully in treating a wide range of female health disorders including endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a disorder in which the cells that form the lining of the uterus or endometrium grow outside the uterus. This abnormal cell growth is most commonly found on the ovaries, the lining of the pelvic cavity, and on the fallopian tubes. It may also be found in the bladder, intestines, or distal parts of the body such as the head, lungs, or arms. Each month the endometrium builds up in the uterus then breaks down and sheds off, resulting in vaginal bleeding or menstruation. It is speculated that this same cycle occurs with the endometrial tissue located outside the uterus. However, endometrial tissue outside the uterus that sheds off and bleeds is trapped inside the body and is slowly absorbed. This process can create pain and inflammation and may lead to the development of local lesions, masses, and larger amounts of endometriosis.

Women with endometriosis may experience pelvic pain 5-7 days before menstruation, during menstruation or with ovulation. Many women experience low back pain with periods, nausea, vomiting, intestinal upsets, fatigue, pain with sexual intercourse, and pain with urination or bowel movements. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of women who report infertility problems have endometriosis. Women that have this condition may also experience irregular menstruation and excessive bleeding and clotting during their menses.

The cause of endometriosis is unclear in western medicine, although there are many theories. Western medical treatments include drug therapy and surgery. Endometriosis is diagnosed through a laparoscopy. This procedure allows the surgeon to see inside the abdominal cavity through a tiny lighted optical tube that is inserted through a small incision in the navel.

Traditional Chinese medicine is able to understand endometriosis based on the differentiated clinical manifestations associated with each individual. It is important in TCM to diagnose the patient according to their own specific pattern. Each individual has a pattern that marks the foundation and progression of the disorder.

When determining the pattern of disease in the treatment of endometriosis, TCM takes into account the menstrual history, duration of the cycle, as well as pain, including the time that it occurs, the location, and the nature and severity. In TCM theory, there are several disease-causing factors including, blood stagnation, energy stagnation and deficiency, as well as cold and heat conditions. The origin of the pattern differs according to the individual. Other factors that are taken into consideration when determining the pattern for endometriosis include: emotional stress, anxiety, constitutional weakness, surgical history, exposure to cold temperatures especially during menstruation, diet, chronic illness or weakness, or a history of genital infections.

Acupuncture points and herbal formulas are chosen in accordance with the individual’s TCM diagnosis and can vary from person to person. The acupuncture points commonly used in the treatment of endometriosis can be located on the ears, abdomen, wrists, feet, legs, and back. Needles are usually retained for 20 to 45 minutes. Prescribed herbal formulas vary from person to person. The acupuncture points and herbs chosen help facilitate the free flow of energy through the body. Some of the points and herbs are used to move blood, break up stagnation and stop pain. Each point and herb has its own therapeutic importance in the treatment of endometriosis depending on the TCM diagnosis of the individual.

In a study published in the December 2002 issue of The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, researchers selected 67 women diagnosed with dysmenorrhea (painful periods) due to endometriosis. Half of this group received ear acupuncture. It was reported that 81 percent of these women had less painful periods after receiving the acupuncture treatments. Researchers speculate that acupuncture promotes blood circulation and regulates the endocrine system. They also suggest that acupuncture could act as an analgesic by elevating levels of endorphins in the blood. Traditional Chinese medicine can treat a wide range of health concerns and has been used effectively throughout the world in treating many women’s health conditions. TCM can also be used as a preventative treatment to help maintain optimum health. If you suffer from endometriosis, acupuncture and herbs may benefit you. When searching for an acupuncturist in New York it is important to make sure that they are licensed by the state of New York. Patients should ask if the acupuncturist is also certified by the NCCAOM in herbology if herbs are going to be used in the treatment.