Endometriosis and Stress
Stress is known to be harmful to health and to be involved in the development and progression of a number of diseases.
The main toxic culprit of stress is the chemical cortisol, which is released by the adrenal gland into the blood during the experience of stress. Cortisol initiates stress responses in the brain, and if these responses occur too frequently, as occurs with chronic stress, there are long-term changes in both the cells of the brain and in the cells of the immune system. Under acute, short-term stress, the functioning of the immune system is actually enhanced. However, under chronic or long-term stress conditions, the functioning of the immune system diminishes.
Minimizing stress is important not just because stress is unpleasant, but also because it has serious long-term health implications. For those who have long-term endometriosis, their perceived level of stress tends to increase with the number of interventions and surgeries they endure. However, these strategies for minimizing the symptoms associated with endometriosis are often beneficial, so abstaining from those interventions could also produce stress. Luckily, there are a number of techniques that are highly beneficial for reducing stress and its related health issues. Among these techniques are: exercise, meditation, self-regulation training, and psychotherapy. For many, an individual technique will work to reduce stress, whereas others find that a combination of techniques is most beneficial.
“Minimizing stress is important not just because stress is unpleasant, but also because it has serious long-term health implications.”
Endometriosis causes stress in those who suffer from the disease for a number of reasons. The symptoms involve pain, which is known to be highly psychologically distressing. The disease can also have troubling implications for personal relationships, fertility, and work capabilities. Physiological tests have been employed to detect stress levels in those with endometriosis. For instance, electroencephalography, which involves the placement of electrodes on the outside of the skull to monitor brain activity, has shown responses consistent with high levels of stress in endometriosis patients. Both skin and muscle responses have shown similar results as well. It is therefore clear that those with endometriosis tend to experience higher than normal levels of stress.
Given that stress tends to exacerbate health problems, some scientists and physicians argue that techniques for minimizing stress may be helpful for people with endometriosis, particularly those who show certain types of stress reactivity and anxiety. If these people can learn how to psychologically manage stressful situations so that their bodies do not have harmful physiological responses to stressors, there could be significant health benefits.
Whether exercise has protective effects against endometriosis is not well understood. Though some claim that exercise can prevent the development and progression of the disease, there is also data that suggest that exercise is not sufficient to provide this type of benefit. However, exercise is known to have significant positive psychological effects and to reduce stress. Thus, at least for the group of endometriosis patients who do experience high levels of stress, exercise is likely a good option.
Though there is not yet an abundance of data showing that stress directly causes the initial development of endometriosis, it is becoming clear that stress is an important contributing factor in the disease. Minimizing stress is therefore likely to be beneficial for those suffering from or at risk of developing endometriosis.