If you’re experiencing menstrual pain, your symptoms are far more common than you might think. Now, if you have heavy periods and pelvic pain, there’s a good chance you have uterine fibroids. After all, according to the National Institutes of Health, 80 to 90 percent of African American women and 70 percent of Caucasian women will develop fibroids before the age of 50.
Since uterine fibroids are prevalent, can cause severe symptoms and can even lead to trouble getting or staying pregnant, it is important to know the warning signs of fibroid development.
But it’s also important to recognize that uterine fibroids and endometriosis can both cause similar symptoms. So let’s take a moment to explain the differences between the two.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue from your uterus, endometrium, grows in or on other parts of your body. Like women with fibroids, women with endometriosis may experience heavy, painful periods as well as bleeding between periods. They are also prone to pelvic pain.
Endometriosis vs Endometritis
Unlike endometriosis, endometritis is a type of bacterial infection that affects your uterus. Like fibroids and endometriosis, this infection can cause abdominal swelling, pelvic pain and constipation. It also causes inflammation in your uterine lining. Without intervention, this infection can become chronic, impacting your fertility among other areas of life. You may also experience uterine bleeding outside of your menstrual cycle. But, unlike other conditions with similar symptoms, you can develop a fever with endometritis. Also, you are most likely to develop this condition after giving birth or having a miscarriage; after having an STD; getting an IUD; or after having a different pelvic procedure. Keeping track of your recent health history can help you receive an accurate and timely diagnosis.
Endometriosis vs. Fibroids
Both of these conditions affect your uterus, but they do so differently. Fibroids are made of muscular tissue; they form in your uterine cavity, within the uterine wall, or outside the uterus. Similarly, endometriosis is characterized by growths outside the uterus. But, with this condition, the trouble begins when the endometrial tissue that lines your uterus develops outside of the uterine cavity.
Endometriosis vs. Fibroids: Symptom Differences
While there are many similarities in the symptoms you experience with each of these conditions, there are clear differences as well. When you have fibroids, you’ll experience long or heavy periods, along with bleeding between periods. Many women experience pelvic pain or pressure, and a frequent need to urinate. Sex can also be painful with fibroids, and you may feel bloated or experience constipation.
But what about endometriosis? With this condition, you may experience painful periods, but pain can also be a problem before you menstruate. You may also deal with painful sex. Women with endometriosis can experience painful bowel movements or urination during their periods, and fatigue can be a major concern. With either fibroids or endometriosis, it may be harder to become pregnant, or deliver a full-term baby.
Clearly, there is some overlap between these conditions, and that’s why the best way to diagnose the cause of your symptoms is to see your healthcare provider. But you can also narrow down the cause of your pelvic pain and heavy bleeding by better understanding your risk for developing fibroids.
Who is At Risk for Fibroid Symptoms?
African American women are three times more likely than caucasian women to develop fibroids; they are also more likely to develop several fibroids at a time. Other factors that could increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids include your age (being over 40) and your weight, since obesity increases your risk. You should also learn your family history of fibroids, and understand that high blood pressure, or never having a pregnancy, could also increase your risk.
Can I Lower My Fibroid Risk?
While many factors can increase your fibroid risk, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing these non-cancerous uterine tumors. Some measures include:
- Becoming pregnant
- Balancing your hormones
- Long-term use of birth control pills or shots
- Following a fibroid friendly diet (see more here)
What are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?
Every case is different and some women may never experience symptoms, but a majority of women with fibroids experience at least one of these three common symptoms.
Excessive Menstrual Bleeding
The most common symptom for women with fibroid tumors is excessive bleeding while menstruating. Often times, the bleeding is prolonged, causing periods to last longer than normal. This can lead to soiling of clothing and may interfere with everyday activities.
Heavy periods are most common with intramural and submucosal fibroids. You may also pass large clots when you have fibroids. Over time, this heavy bleeding can cause health complications such as anemia.
Pelvic Pain & Pressure
Women with fibroids may feel pain in their lower abdomen. As fibroids grow larger, depending on their size and location, they may cause pain by putting pressure on organs. In addition, they could cause swelling that is often mistaken as weight gain or pregnancy.
Even small fibroids can cause pressure, depending on their location. But this symptom could also indicate adenomyosis or endometriosis. So you should see your doctor at the first sign of pressure or pain in your pelvis.
Loss of Bladder Control
Fibroids can press against the bladder causing frequent urination and even loss of bladder control. Not only can this cause a great deal of pain, it can disrupt your everyday activities. In addition, fibroid growth can place pressure on the bowel, causing constipation and bloating.
Reaching a Uterine Fibroid Diagnosis
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or these additional fibroid symptoms, schedule an immediate appointment with our fibroid specialists. Fibroids can usually be found during a simple abdominal or pelvic exam. If your doctor feels that you may have fibroids, an ultrasound or MRI may be used to confirm the diagnosis and proceed with treatment. And, if your provider rules out fibroids as the cause of your symptoms, he or she may recommend further testing to confirm or rule out an endometriosis diagnosis.
Sources: Bioidentical Hormone Health