Endometriosis Explained

By J. Christy McKibben

All women expect to experience some level of cramping while on their period. However, women who have endometriosis endure physical pain that is much worse than a woman with a “normal” menstrual period. Women may also experience emotional pain as they try, but fail, to conceive. What is endometriosis—and how can it affect a woman’s life?

What is Endometriosis?

The Mayo Clinic explains, “Endometriosis…is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs.”

The displaced tissue acts normally by thickening, breaking down, and bleeding with every menstrual cycle. However, the displaced endometrial tissue is unable to exit the body and becomes trapped. The tissue around the trapped endometrial tissue may develop a fibrous sticky material, called adhesions. These adhesions can make organs, as well as other tissues, stick together.

Women with endometriosis often experience severe pain—especially while having their period. Women may also experience fertility problems due to endometriosis.

Chocolate Cysts

Another possible issue with endometriosis is the formation of cysts called endometriomas. Endometriomas might form if the ovaries become involved. These cysts are sometimes referred to as chocolate cysts, as they are filled with old brown blood. If a cyst becomes too large, surgery may be required.

Signs and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Signs and symptoms of Endometriosis may include the following.

  • Severe pelvic pain, extreme cramping, lower back pain, abdominal pain, pain during or after intercourse, pain while urinating, and pain while having bowel movements. The pain is most likely to happen during your period, but may also happen a few days before or after. Some women feel pain all of the time, some women with endometriosis do not experience abnormal pain at all.
  • Heavy periods. Every period may be heavy, or you may only have heavy periods occasionally. You may also experience clotting while on your period (a clotted blood flow). Some women have spotting or bleeding between periods, or another form of abnormal bleeding.
  • Some women don’t know they have endometriosis until they try to get pregnant and can’t. Endometriosis is often diagnosed by women seeking treatment for their infertility. According to WebMD “Between 20% and 40% of women who are infertile have endometriosis.”
  • Various symptoms. These may include fatigue, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. These symptoms are more likely to occur during your period.

Treatments Offer Hope

There is not a cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments that can allow for better quality of life. Pain usually plays a large role in women suffering from endometriosis. There are 3 main ways pain is treated. The first treatment tried is pain medications.

Pain Medications

Pain medications will usually only work if the pain is mild. Some over-the-counter pain medication, or prescription medication, may be tried. Because the pain and symptoms experienced are often severe, pain medications of any kind will not help relieve the severe pain. The sufferer usually needs to move on to the next step, to try and find pain relief.

Hormone Therapies

“Hormone treatments stop the ovaries from producing hormones, including estrogen, and usually prevent ovulation. This may help slow the growth and local activity of both the endometrium and the endometrial lesions. Treatment also prevents the growth of new areas and scars (adhesions), but it will not make existing adhesions go away,” reports the US Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some of the possible hormone treatments may include:

  • Birth control pills: These make a woman’s period lighter and more regular. Sometimes the pills are taken continuously (skipping the 7, or sometimes 3, sugar pills per pack). Doing so will often help with the pain of endometriosis.
  • Progesterone and progestin: May be given by injection, taken as a pill, or by the use of an intrauterine device (IUD).
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists: Also known as GnRH agonists, these stop certain hormones from producing. They prevent ovulation, menstruation, and the growth of endometriosis. When this treatment is used, it will place a woman’s body into a kind of menopausal state.

In addition to these options, other treatments are being researched to help with endometriosis and the pain associated with it. All of the listed treatments have possible side effects—some more severe than others. A woman and her doctor need to weigh the options and see what hormone treatment, if any, may work best for her.

Surgeries

Surgery is only used for severe cases of pain. During surgery, the doctor locates and removes the endometrial adhesions, which helps to relieve some of the patient’s pain. The two main surgeries that are sometimes used to ease the pain of endometriosis are:

  • Laparoscopy: The surgeon fills the patient’s abdomen with gas and makes a small cut in the abdomen to insert a light/viewing instrument to view inside. Once the surgeon locates the adhesions, she or he makes two or more (small) cuts in the abdomen to insert either a laser or another instrument to remove the adhesions and scar tissue.
  • Laparotomy: This is a major surgical procedure of the abdomen. Because a large cut is made, the surgeon is able to see more of the endometriosis adhesions and remove them. Sometimes these adhesions are attached to other organs, when this happens, the surgeon carefully removes the adhesions from the organ without damaging it. There may also be endometriomas (chocolate cysts) that need to be removed. If necessary, the surgeon will remove the patient’s uterus (hysterectomy). If the patient’s ovaries have endometriosis adhesions on them, or there is too much damage, the surgeon may need to remove not only the uterus but the fallopian tubes and the ovaries. If possible, the surgeon will leave the ovaries because they play an important role in a woman’s health. This surgery is only recommended as the last resort for the treatment of endometriosis. Unfortunately, endometriosis adhesions can still come back after surgery.

What About Fertility?

Some women with endometriosis do have fertility problems. As mentioned earlier, some women don’t even find out they have endometriosis until they have problems conceiving. Women may need to consult a fertility specialist to find out what options they have in becoming pregnant. One of the more conservative treatments for endometriosis, often a laparoscopy, may need to be used to allow for a greater chance of getting pregnant. If the woman has had a laparoscopy and is still having trouble getting pregnant, in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended to improve her fertility.

Living with Endometriosis

Endometriosis is very painful and hard to live with, for many women. It can also be painful dealing with the fertility problems that often come with endometriosis. Luckily, with the conservative, and not so conservative, treatments, there are ways a woman can live a healthy, happy life while living with endometriosis.

-J. Christy McKibben

Image 1 via Wikimedia Commons by Blausen.com staff
Image 2 via Wikimedia Commons by Vega Asensio
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5 Exercises to Alleviate Your Chronic Pain

By J. Christy McKibben

Chronic pain is defined as “pain that typically lasts >3 months,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although everyone experiences chronic pain differently, for many it can be unbearable. Whether mild or excruciating, there are different treatments to try: medicine, massage, or acupuncture, for instance. One or more of these, or other treatments, may work for some. However, they don’t work for everyone. The best, easiest, and maybe the first thing you should try is exercise. Give it a shot! You don’t have to run a marathon, complete a triathlon, or participate in any other extreme activity. In addition to relieving some of your pain, stretching and movement can build muscle and help with flexibility. It can even help with your psychological and emotional states. Many people have found physical movement to be helpful in easing at least some of their pain. Unfortunately, no miracle can be promised. So, what are some of these extraordinary exercises? Away. We. Go!

Physical Activity to Ease Your Pain

Stretching

You should really try to stop and do stretches every day—at least one time during the day. Stretching is fantastic—and most people can handle stretches on some level. Stretching encourages your tense, tight muscles to loosen up; while also increasing and improving your flexibility and range of motion.

Yoga

Concentrating on your breathing, plus the meditation and movement aspects of yoga can contribute to the reduction of many psychological and physical symptoms. In addition to lessening your pain, yoga can expand awareness, stamina, and strength. It can also help you pull off a restful 8 hours of zzzs.

Strength Training

In addition to helping with chronic pain, strength training is a crazy good way to build and strengthen your muscles. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about Rambo or anything; you’ll be using much lighter weights! This kind of training is a great way to prevent bone loss, and it will help with your posture and balance. To start off, it’s a good idea to work with a personal trainer. She or he can help with what weights to use, how to use them, and how often you should be training.

Walking

Walk this way…by yourself, with a friend, or with your dog. Yes, walking is yet another terrific way to help alleviate some of your chronic pain. It’s considered a low-impact aerobic activity—it will help with stiffness and boost your energy. You can walk outside when the weather is ideal. When it’s not, a mall is a great place to go. Some malls even open early, before the stores open—so walkers can claim the territory until the oft fervent shoppers stream in.

Water Aerobics

Water aerobics—you talk about fun, and effective! If you can find a great instructor and heated pool, this will be one of your all-time favorite activities. You’ve got your positives: fun, relaxes your muscles, easy on the joints, and pain relief. And…your negatives: chlorine and being seen in a bathing suit. Some communities offer water aerobics classes. You can also check with your city or county to see if they offer any classes. Try it out—you won’t regret it. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

Body Conditioning = Best Remedy

Chronic pain can lead to anxiety and depression. Most people agree that their mood is lifted when exercising. It’s not a cure-all, but it can definitely improve a great deal of assorted problems. Any form of exercise will make your body secrete endorphins, which helps with the pain. Don’t begin by doing anything too strenuous—start off slow. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself, or make your chronic pain even worse. You can gradually increase your speed or intensity if you choose to do so. Remember, the key is to just get going and start exercising. Don’t push it too hard. Be kind to your body.

J. Christy McKibben

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Image 2 via Pixabay by ShannonShort

10,000 Steps Per…Huh?

By J. Christy McKibben

Aah…fitness trackers…don’t you love them? I’m not great about paying attention, or keeping track of the progress on mine. In fact, most days I forget to wear it at all. But, when I do think about it, I grab it and put it on. I must admit, there have been days when I’ve wondered why I even bother. Especially on this day…

My Moment of Reckoning

One evening, several months ago, my mother and I were watching some action-packed television show. Suddenly I remembered that I’d actually worn my fitness tracker. I’d forgotten about it that morning, but I remembered to put it on sometime in the afternoon. During an annoyingly loud commercial (visually and sound-wise), I asked my mom, “Is it 10,000 steps per day a person is supposed to complete to lose weight?” She answered, “I think so.”

Now I became really excited and crazy curious about the number of steps I’d taken that day. I had to be within a couple of hundred steps of that magical number—10,000. Oh yeah. I got this. No problem. I had visions of losing weight. Maybe I could lose 5 or 10 pounds overnight. Really. I could do that…right???

Okay. This is it. This is my moment of truth. I’ll be so proud. My mother will be so proud. 10,000 steps? What a joke! I’ll walk 20,000 tomorrow. So, I glanced down at my fitness tracker. And with large, anticipatory eyes, I read aloud what I saw…

“95 steps.”

It Must Be Broken

95 STEPS?! What the…?! My face dropped. I sat there just staring at my fitness tracker. Mouth wide open. Where did it all go wrong? This was happening as my loving, supportive mother erupted uncontrollably in laughter.

Once my mother gained a tiny bit of composure, she asked me if I was joking. Shamefaced, I admitted that, no, this was no joke. Coming up with a thin excuse, I did remind her that I hadn’t put the fitness tracker on until the afternoon. Plus, I was at home and hadn’t been doing too much all day (obviously).

Walking is Too Much Work

So, after all of the hilarity, my mom and I joked a bit about juggling the fitness tracker. Maybe I could add some steps that way. Oooh, we could throw it back and forth to each other. You know. For an upper body workout. Back to watching our show. A few minutes later, my mom began giggling. Which led to a boisterous—extremely classy—horse laugh. She couldn’t stop thinking about my embarrassing pronouncement.

Once she could catch her breath, my mom told me the entire scenario had been especially funny because I’d appeared to be so cocky about the 10,000 steps. I’d asked her about them as though I thought I was close to that number. As pathetic as it sounds, I truly thought I was close (or even over 10,000 steps).

So we didn’t really get the gist of our television show. Too much laughing. Later my mom said, “Well you’ve walked back and forth to the bathroom a couple of times.” I said, “Yeah, that’s where the majority of my 95 daily steps came from!”

Throughout that evening, I tried to do all kinds of moves with the fitness tracker. Trying to find ways I could “cheat.” (I suppose it would be just too much work to get up and take a few steps). I tried a galloping move, while seated on the loveseat. That worked. I gained a whole 16 steps. By the time I went to bed, and took off the fitness tracker, I had taken 226 steps. Yes, I would need to “step it up” the next day! (I realize that was incredibly corny, but I just couldn’t help myself).

Before You Judge Me Too Harshly…

So, the next day I looked at all of the options on my fitness tracker. Miles, steps, stairs, calories burned, and the time. That’s when I discovered my problem (or at least one of them J). The clock wasn’t showing the correct time. Lightbulb! The tracker was resetting at midnight sometime during each evening, so the statistics were all messed up. That’s why I only had 95 steps at 9:00 at night the previous evening! I did a sync with my tracker and phone, which corrected the time immediately. Now, whenever I wear it, I’m sure to check the tracker’s clock. Oh, and I can’t tell a lie. I have to admit that even with the messed up time, there is no way that I was anywhere near 10,000 steps that day. (Probably a few more than 226 though).

J. Christy McKibben

Image 1 via Pixabay by RyanMcGuire
Image 2 via Pixabay by Peggy_Marco

What is Panic Disorder?

By J. Christy McKibben

A Definition of Panic Disorder

“About six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). A panic disorder occurs when a person experiences recurring uncontrollable panic attacks. These unexpected attacks manifest the physical signs of panic attacks, which include dizziness, sweating, and heart palpitations. If the individual has not been diagnosed with a panic disorder, they may believe they’re having a heart attack, or that they’re about to die.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are part of panic disorder. When you have a panic attack, you may experience a sudden overwhelming feeling of terror. Some of the other symptoms you might experience may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vertigo
  • Stomach problems
  • Dizziness
  • Severe anxiousness

In addition, you may feel as though a heart attack, or even death, is imminent.

Even between panic attacks it is common for panic disorder sufferers to have extreme and chronic anxiety. You may develop phobias about locations, and fears about experiences that have previously set off panic attacks. As more panic attacks occur, you may try to avoid anything that you believe will trigger another episode. Because you’re avoiding this, you may begin to live as a shut-in. You may feel most comfortable at home, in your “safe” surroundings, where you have less fear of having an episode.

Diagnosis of Panic Disorder

To diagnose a panic disorder, the doctor will need to evaluate your symptoms, complete a physical examination, and get a complete medical history. There is not a laboratory test to diagnose a panic disorder, but the doctor will more than likely order diagnostic tests to rule out any physical problems or illnesses that may be causing the symptoms. If the doctor does not find a physical reason for your symptoms, she or he may refer the patient to a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrists and psychologists use special assessment and interview tools to evaluate patients for panic disorder. The Cleveland Clinic reports, “The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the patient’s report of the intensity and duration of symptoms—including the frequency of panic attacks—and the doctor’s observation of the patient’s attitude and behavior. The doctor then determines if the patient’s symptoms and degree of dysfunction suggest panic disorder.”

Treatment of Panic Disorder

There are three therapies that have been found to be effective in treating panic disorders:

  • Psychotherapy: This is a type of counseling that uses talk as a way for you to understand and deal with the disorder.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This therapy helps you recognize and change your behaviors and thought patterns that may lead you to troublesome feelings. This kind of therapy is often helpful in finding some of the possible triggers you may have for your panic attacks.
  • Medication: There are a multitude of medications a doctor may prescribe for panic disorder. Some of these medications may include anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and heart medications.

Your doctor or therapist may try some or all of these therapies. Many people respond very well to at least one of the therapies. In addition, taking yoga or meditation classes—the concentration being on breathing and visualization—may be a helpful supplementary treatment to your therapy.

J. Christy McKibben

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Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Occasional Nervousness

By J. Christy McKibben

We all feel anxiety in our lives. Maybe you feel anxious about an exam, when called into your supervisor’s office, or when you trip or say something foolish in front of your much-adored crush. But, there is a significant difference between feeling a bit anxious and struggling with anxiety disorder.

Differences Between Anxiety Disorders and Ordinary Anxiety

Anxiety is an ordinary part of life, as long as it only occurs sporadically. In fact it is an essential part of our lives. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states, “Anxiety helps us get out of harm’s way and prepare for important events, and it warns us when we need to take action.” Anxiety disorders involve much more than this. These disorders cause extreme unease, anxiety, distress, and/or fear. If you have an anxiety disorder, the anxiety is not temporary and it can get worse as time goes by. Your daily life may be affected, including work, school, and your relationships with others.

Some of the general anxiety-related symptoms you may experience with an anxiety disorder may include:

  • An inability to let go of your worries
  • Suffering from diarrhea or nausea
  • An inability to relax or having trouble sleeping
  • A difficulty with your concentration, or having your mind go blank
  • Worrying about everything, whether the issue is small or large
  • Being fatigued, even when there’s no apparent reason
  • Being irritated
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Having muscle tension
  • Having a twitch, being unable to sit still, or being “jumpy”
  • Inability to make decisions (“Will I make the wrong decision?”)
  • Suffering from headaches, or even migraines

Many of the above symptoms are common. You may have all of them, you may have some of them, or you may have none of them. The list is not all inclusive, you may experience a completely different set of symptoms not mentioned above.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are numerous anxiety disorders, and many of them have additional conditions related to the disorder. Three of the most common anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you may have extreme and excessive unease, distress, anxiety, worry, and/or fear for several months. If you have generalized anxiety disorder you may also suffer from several of the general symptoms mentioned above.

Panic Disorder

With panic disorder, you will have recurring panic attacks occurring at unforeseen times. You will suddenly have an extreme fear, you may have the feeling of an impending doom, or like you’re “going to die.” You will have palpitations, a shortness of breath, a feeling of being smothered, and you may have excessive sweating.

Social Anxiety Disorder

If you have social anxiety disorder you will have an extreme fear of being social or in social situations. You may pull away from family and friends and avoid anywhere other people may be. This anxiety may be related to the expectations or fear of rejection, being judged, speaking with others, or the inability to control your diarrhea or nauseous feelings, sweating, or jumpiness.

Do You Have an Anxiety Disorder?

To find out for sure if you have an anxiety disorder you need to see your doctor. Your family doctor is a good place to start out. She or he may be able to diagnosis you; and if necessary refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further treatment. There are many treatment options for anxiety disorders, and it can take some trial and error. Just remember to stick with it—it may take time to find relief.

J. Christy McKibben

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