December 6, 2011 | Sergei Avdiushko, PhD
A recent review published in the Cochrane Database, evaluated the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for pain in endometriosis. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the studies related to pain management for women’s health. As you are likely well aware, endometriosis is a prevalent gynecological condition, significantly affecting women’s lives. Clinical presentations may vary from absence of symptoms to complaints of chronic pelvic pain, most notably dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation).
Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose because the pain symptoms that are experienced are not unique to endometriosis. There are a lack of truly reliable, non-invasive procedures for diagnosis of this disease. Currently, the gold standard is diagnosis by laparoscopic visual inspection. The true prevalence of endometriosis is unknown, though it is estimated to occur in 10% of women of reproductive age.
The management of pain in endometriosis is also inadequate. Conventional treatments do not provide long-term pain relief and their adverse effects may be intolerable for some women. These therapies range from analgesics, hormonal therapies that decrease menses, inhibit ovarian function and cause atrophy of ectopic endometrial cells to more invasive surgical interventions.
Acupuncture has been studied in gynecological disorders but its effectiveness for pain in endometriosis is uncertain. There are several different forms of acupuncture, including body acupuncture, electroacupuncture, auricular acupuncture (stimulation in the ear) and scalp acupuncture. Emerging literature demonstrates acupuncture-mediated analgesia and alteration of specific hormones like the body’s naturally occurring pain mediators (endogenous opioids such as ß-endorphin) may be beneficial for relieving pain associated with endometriosis.
Researchers propose that acupuncture leads to increases of endogenous opioids and the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine which cause analgesia, sedation and recovery of motor function. Some studies of auricular acupuncture suggest that its main therapeutic actions may be through elevation of plasma ß-endorphin levels and coordination of uterine activity. The data from the included study, involving 67 women, indicated that ear acupuncture is more effective compared to Chinese herbal medicine for reducing menstrual pain. This might be a good alternative to traditional medicine worth trying for women suffering from endometriosis.