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Over 5 million women in North America have endometriosis (30-40% are infertile), a painful condition where endometrial tissue (tissue that lines the uterus) grows elsewhere, including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowels, bladder, and the tissue lining the pelvis. No matter where it is located, the tissue will act as though being in the uterus (thicken under hormonal control and shed (bleed) during menstruation). The blood has no where to go so it becomes trapped. This causes surrounding tissue to become irritated. Most women feel no signs or symptoms while others can have mild to severe pain which can occur during their period, ovulation, intercourse, bowel movements, and/or urination. Heavy periods and/or bleeding between periods can also occur.
Western medicine has yet to find a treatment for endometriosis without serious side effects. Drugs, including hormones, can have masculizing effects and can cause a number of other problems, such as weight gain, hot flashes, and acne. Surgery is another option but it does not always have long-term effects.
Recent research suggests Chinese herbs for endometriosis may work just as well as some drugs. Two trials involving 158 women showed positive results against hormonal drugs. In the first trial, the herbal treatment worked just as well as the drug gestrinone and in the second trial, they worked better than the drug danazol. In both trials, the side effects of Chinese herbs were far fewer than those of the drugs.
Although the results from these two trials are promising, more research is needed.
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Normally, Chinese herbs are used in combination with other herbs and each person can differ on what herbs are best for their needs.
Endometriosis, according to traditional Chinese medicine, is described by the category of blood stasis syndrome (disruption of blood flow in small vessels which is believed to be the cause of pain, excessive bleeding, and infertility) with formation of abdominal lumps. Therefore, the herbs most commonly used will be ones that vitalize blood flow. Additional herbs may be given to treat underlying problems like emotional distress or specific symptoms like excessive bleeding. After the initial treatment, herbs may be added to resolve lumps.
Chinese herbs commonly used in the treatment for endometriosis include:
- Calamus gum
- Gleditsia spine
- Oyster shell
- Pangolin scale
- Red peony
Before using trying any sort of alternative medicine, you should consult with a health care provider trained to prescribe them.
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Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
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