Can you develop endometriosis later in life? Learn the answer to that question and which complementary and alternative therapies can help treat endometriosis.
- Can you develop endometriosis later in life? The answer is yes, though it’s much more common at younger ages.
- Endometriosis can happen during perimenopause or even after your periods have stopped.
- In many cases, the condition may have been present for years but is only diagnosed later in life, but in 2-4% of cases, endometriosis appears to develop after menopause.
- Though scientists aren’t yet sure why, late-life endometriosis may be related to postmenopausal hormone therapy.
- Complementary treatments can help you manage endometriosis symptoms regardless of age.
- Sound Cycle can help you find complementary practitioners who specialize in women’s health conditions.
You can develop endometriosis later in life — even after menopause — though it’s much more common in the reproductive years. For many women, Western treatment isn’t enough to relieve their symptoms, but several complementary therapies can help people with endometriosis manage their condition. People for whom pregnancy isn’t a concern have even more complementary treatment options.
What is endometriosis?
In endometriosis, endometrial tissue similar to the uterine lining begins to grow in locations outside the uterus.
Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) or endometrial lesions (abnormal tissue) in the pelvic cavity react to hormonal changes, causing pelvic pain, bleeding, and other complications. The area surrounding these endometriotic lesions can become irritated and form scar tissue and adhesions.
Endometriosis can cause heavy menstrual periods, severe pain, and infertility. It can take years to diagnose and be difficult to treat with Western treatment methods alone.
At what age can you get endometriosis?
Medical publications describe endometriosis as a disease that affects women of reproductive age. It’s not easy to say how many people have it, but estimates suggest that 11 percent of people aged 18 to 44 may have endometriosis.
Development of endometriosis in the teenage years or after menopause is rare, but it does happen.
How can you develop endometriosis later in life?
It’s not uncommon to get a diagnosis of endometriosis later in life. However, that doesn’t always mean that the endometriosis developed at an advanced age.
Endometriosis may be diagnosed late
Endometriosis is notorious for taking a long time to diagnose. Estimates vary, but it can take as long as 8-10 years to receive a confirmation of the disease. There are several reasons for this:
- People think their menstrual pain is normal and don’t seek help.
- People don’t talk about their symptoms with friends and don’t realize they should get checked.
- Some family doctors don’t refer patients to specialists, believing painful symptoms are normal.
- Hormonal contraceptives, like the pill and some IUDs, provide temporary relief, so women who use them don’t often seek diagnostics.
Endometriosis worsens over time
Endometriosis is a sneaky disease. You may live without symptoms for years, only to have them creep up on you as you age. It may not always be clear whether the endometriosis developed at an older age, or if the condition had been there for years, unnoticed and undiagnosed.
Some women face obstacles to healthcare
The reasons some people learn about their endometriosis later in life are complex. If you don’t get regular gynecological checkups, you will not know about your disease. People can struggle with multiple obstacles to routine healthcare:
- Lack of or insufficient medical insurance
- Previous bad experiences with OB-GYNs and reluctance to get examined
- History of sexual violence or trauma and fear of pelvic exams
- Being a transgender person and fearful of disclosing their true identity
If you feel you have a psychological block that’s preventing you from getting diagnosed, talk to a psychotherapist. Behavioral therapy can help you manage anxiety and overcome the fear of getting medical help.
Endometriosis and menopause
When you think about menopause, what images come to mind? Hot flashes and sweating? No more periods?
Many people think these symptoms start only after a woman has stopped menstruating, but the opposite is true. The intense hormonal changes happen before periods cease, or in the perimenopausal stage. Perimenopause can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years.
Most people notice their cycles becoming irregular, but they will still ovulate from time to time. This means endometriosis symptoms can still occur and cause abdominal pain and discomfort.
Do endometriosis symptoms stop after menopause?
In most cases, yes, but not always. While it’s true that many times, endometriosis doesn’t develop later in life but has been asymptomatic for years, the literature indicates that between two and four percent of people with endometriosis are postmenopausal.
Scientists don’t know why this happens, but they suspect that in some cases, peripheral estrogen is to blame. This is a type of estrogen that’s not produced in the ovaries. Rather, it’s created through the conversion of androgens, generally known as male hormones, which females also produce.
Endometriosis and hormonal replacement therapy
Most cases of postmenopausal endometriosis, however, appear to be related to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Women who have major surgery for endometriosis often take HRT to deal with postsurgical symptoms. Ironically, researchers suspect that taking HRT is also a risk factor for the return of endometriosis in people who have had it before, especially for people with obesity.
In a small number of cases, postmenopausal women with endometriosis were taking Tamoxifen, a drug commonly prescribed for breast cancer.
Western treatment for the treatment of endometriosis
Age is not the decisive factor for the choice of endometriosis treatment. What matters is whether a woman plans to become pregnant. In short, if you’re postmenopausal or not planning a future pregnancy, you have more treatment options.
Here are some of the treatments offered to people for whom pregnancy is not a concern:
- Hormonal therapy. Oral contraceptives are first-line treatment for endometriosis symptoms. Some doctors may suggest an IUD with progestins. Hormonal treatments work by stopping ovulation. With some methods, premenopausal women may even stop menstruating, but those who continue to menstruate will usually have less-painful periods.
- Hysterectomy. Removal of the uterus — and possibly the ovaries — is a more radical treatment for endometriosis. If ovaries are removed, the body is forced into menopause (if you’re not there already). Unfortunately, this method does not guarantee full recovery, as endometrial tissue can grow back.
Alternative and complementary therapies for endometriosis symptoms
Complementary medicine offers many solutions for endometriosis at any stage of life. Here are some popular alternative therapies favored by people with endometriosis:
- Acupuncture. This ancient method of treatment with fine needles has shown promising results in the management of chronic pain. Look for an acupuncturist who specializes in women’s health.
- Herbal remedies. Natural remedies are often used alone or in combination with acupuncture. There are many herbs that can be effective in the treatment of endometriosis symptoms. Examples include peppermint, curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), and chamomile. An herbalist will likely recommend a formula made from several herbs to target individual symptoms.
If you want to try herbs for your endometriosis symptoms, work with a trustworthy herbalist and use mixtures from reliable sources.
- Dietitian or nutritionist support. Research suggests that diet is an important factor in endometriosis. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist can help you make the right food choices and feel better physically and mentally.
It’s never too late to treat endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition that can impact your work and quality of life. If you’re nearing menopause, you may not connect your symptoms to endometriosis, but it’s still possible to develop the condition later in life.
With the right mix of conventional and alternative therapies, you can get your endometriosis symptoms under control.
Let Sound Cycle be your ally on your path to holistic health. Check out our provider directory to find a complementary therapist specializing in women’s health in your area.