Adenomyosis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Adenomyosis is a condition that affects women and may impact their periods, fertility, and quality of life. Adenomyosis is often misdiagnosed as uterine fibroids, but the two conditions are not the same.
If you suspect that you have this condition, you may want to know its symptoms, understand the causes, and learn what treatment is available.
What Is Adenomyosis?
Did you know that women are commonly affected by numerous reproductive tract conditions? They often occur during the childbearing years and sometimes beyond. Adenomyosis is one such condition that can result in uncomfortable symptoms such as heavy periods, severe cramping, and painful sex.
Adenomyosis occurs when the inner lining of your uterus, also known as endometrial tissue, grows into the muscular wall of your uterus. This tissue causes the uterus to expand to double or even triple its normal size. Even though the tissue is displaced, it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds during your menstrual cycle, causing pain that is often much more severe than a regular period. Adenomyosis most commonly affects women who have carried at least one pregnancy to term.
Symptoms of adenomyosis can start out mild or barely noticeable and increase in severity, potentially inhibiting your quality of life. Although symptoms can vary between women and range from mild to severe, some of the common indicators include the following:
- Painful periods
- Heavy bleeding during or in between your periods
- Abdominal pressure and bloating
These can also be symptoms of other conditions, like uterine fibroids or endometriosis. We recommend consulting with a specialist to get an accurate diagnosis. Our team of interventional radiologists are specialists that diagnose, treat, and cure many kinds of conditions.
Adenomyosis of the uterus can be challenging to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to several other reproductive tract conditions. However, an MRI or ultrasound can help provide an accurate diagnosis by ruling out uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or other types of growths that may explain your symptoms.
Women at Risk
Women in their later childbearing years, the majority of whom are between the ages of 35 and 50, are more at risk of developing adenomyosis. Another factor that may put women at risk is having given birth to multiple children, although research is still needed to determine if this is the case. Studies also indicate that women who have undergone a cesarean section or a D&C (dilation and curettage) may have a higher risk of developing adenomyosis.
Adenomyosis vs. Endometriosis
While adenomyosis sounds similar to endometriosis, they are different conditions. The main difference is where the endometrial tissue (endometrium) is displaced. Even though you may not be sure what the endometrium is, you’ve likely seen it during your menstrual period when the tissue inside the uterus is shed. This lining can spread to different areas, which can cause endometriosis and adenomyosis.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that should only be in the uterus grows outside of it and is found in other areas of the body. The most common locations for endometriosis are on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other organs not located in the pelvic area. Adenomyosis is caused by the endometrial tissue growing into the muscles inside your uterus. Although these are different conditions, they are related, and you can have both at the same time.
Adenomyosis vs. Fibroids
The difference between adenomyosis and uterine fibroids is another area that can cause confusion. If you are unsure whether you are suffering from adenomyosis or fibroids, keep track of your symptoms to help your doctor provide an accurate diagnosis.
While adenomyosis is endometrial tissue that grows into the wall of the uterus, uterine fibroids are benign tumors made up of fibrous tissue and smooth muscle cells that can grow in or on your uterus. Fibroids can vary in size from a tiny pea to as large as a melon and may grow individually or in clusters. Although some women don’t experience any issues from fibroids at all, others find their lives severely impacted.
Common fibroid symptoms include:
- Heavy and prolonged menstruation
- Anemia, which can lead to fatigue
- Stomach swelling
Fibroids have the potential to damage surrounding organs and impact fertility. We provide resources to help you better understand what might be causing your symptoms so you can get the care you need.
What Causes Adenomyosis?
Unfortunately, adenomyosis causes are unknown. We know that it is most commonly diagnosed in women in their later childbearing years and tends to resolve after menopause. Some studies suggest that hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, may be a factor.
One theory links adenomyosis and childbirth, while another proposes that stem cells from bone marrow may invade the uterus muscles. It is also suggested that this condition may develop when endometrial tissue is placed in the uterine muscle during the development of the fetus. Regardless of how the condition develops, it can continue to grow based on the amount of estrogen present in the system.
Adenomyosis and Pregnancy
Diagnosis is often difficult and only made if there is a complication in the pregnancy. Several risks can accompany this condition during pregnancy. For instance, research has noted that a spontaneous rupturing occurred in one woman’s uterus while she was in labor. Research shows that it may be more difficult for a woman to become pregnant with adenomyosis, especially with in vitro fertilization. Some studies also indicate that treating the condition can improve fertility.
How to Treat Adenomyosis
Adenomyosis often goes untreated, most likely because women who have been diagnosed are often presented with limited treatment options. Some women are told that a hysterectomy, the complete surgical removal of the uterus, is their only option. However, USA Fibroids Centers offer the leading, non-surgical treatment for adenomyosis, known as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). UFE can help reduce your symptoms and get you back to your daily routine.
Your doctor may give you several treatment options that can be beneficial for adenomyosis. While each of these treatments is likely to provide relief from your symptoms, it’s important to consider what impact they may have on your fertility and quality of life before making a decision.
NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or Naproxen may be prescribed to help manage painful symptoms before and during your period. However, although NSAIDs can help treat your adenomyosis symptoms, this method does not treat the disease itself.
Your doctor may suggest taking birth control pills or trying a hormone-releasing IUD to help control heavy periods. However, as with anti-inflammatory medications, hormone therapy only aims to provide symptomatic relief.
Although this is an effective and permanent solution, it has several drawbacks. First, removing the uterus results in infertility, which can be devastating if you want children. Also, this major surgery involves risks such as excessive bleeding, blood clots, infection, and an adverse reaction to general anesthesia. Hysterectomy requires a one-to-two–day hospital stay, followed by a lengthy recovery of six to eight weeks.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)
Although Uterine Fibroid Embolization is most often associated with treating uterine fibroids, it can also be beneficial as a treatment for adenomyosis. UFE is a minimally invasive treatment with a much shorter recovery than surgery. In fact, most women are back to normal activities after only one week.
At USA Fibroid Centers, UFE is performed by our expert interventional radiologists. They specialize in using advanced imaging techniques to diagnose and treat uterine fibroids and other reproductive tract conditions. During the UFE procedure, the IR will use ultrasound to guide a tiny catheter into the blood vessels that supply blood to the adenomyosis tissue. Next, embolic particles are injected through the catheter to block the blood flow, which usually alleviates your symptoms. The procedure is performed under light sedation with local anesthesia, and you can go home the same day.
Adenomyosis Treatment at USA Fibroid Centers
We believe that no woman should have to live with painful symptoms. We offer UFE, a non-surgical treatment for women with adenomyosis and fibroids that can help you find freedom from your symptoms without scarring, stitches, or a long recovery. To discover if UFE is the right approach for you, schedule a consultation with one of our specialists or give us a call at 888.615.2555 today.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Retrieved on Nov 10, 2022) Adenomyosis.
2. NIH. (1996). Obstetrical complications of adenomyosis.