Many women first become aware of their uterine fibroids due to symptoms that make day-to-day life uncomfortable. While the severity of fibroid symptoms can vary wildly, many women report experiencing bloating, pain in their lower abdomen, and heavy periods.
However, there are other medical conditions with symptoms that manifest in a similar way to fibroids, potentially creating confusion regarding what a woman is experiencing. Someone with endometriosis, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), or uterine cancer may incorrectly believe they have fibroids due to the similarity between several symptoms.
Fortunately, there are a number of distinct IBS, uterine cancer, and endometriosis symptoms that don’t overlap with fibroids. We’re breaking down the signs of all of these conditions, as well as the differences in how they affect women’s bodies.
It’s critical to note that fibroids must be diagnosed by a medical practitioner, preferably one who specializes in fibroids. Imaging tests and pelvic exams can positively identify the presence of fibroids, and without visiting a doctor, it’s impossible to say for certain that a woman has fibroids.
That being said, here’s what you should know about these conditions which are commonly mistaken for fibroids, and how you can tell the difference.
Are these symptoms of endometriosis or fibroids?
Uterine fibroids and endometriosis are two distinct gynaecological conditions that affect millions of women worldwide each year. While they share common symptoms, there are major differences between these two conditions, both in terms of how they affect women and the ways they are treated by medical professionals.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop within the walls of the uterus. They vary in size and location, often leading to symptoms such as heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, frequent urination, and abdominal bloating. In some cases, women with fibroids may experience lower back pain and pain during intercourse.
Endometriosis, on the other hand, is a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, commonly in the pelvic region.
The most common signs of endometriosis include painful periods, chronic pelvic pain, pain during or after sexual intercourse, and fertility issues. Some women may also experience fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and pain during bowel movements.
Although there are overlaps between endometriosis and fibroid symptoms, there are differences that can help distinguish between these conditions.
Women with uterine fibroids may experience heavy and prolonged periods, while those with endometriosis typically have intense pelvic pain during menstruation.
Pelvic examination and imaging
During a pelvic exam, a healthcare provider may be able feel the presence of uterine fibroids. Imaging techniques such as ultrasounds or MRI can further aid in confirming fibroids. But for endometriosis, a definitive diagnosis often requires laparoscopy, a minimally invasive procedure.
Pain can provide clues
While both conditions can cause pelvic pain, the nature and timing of the pain may differ. Endometriosis-related pain often worsens during menstruation, while fibroid pain is usually more constant and consistent.
Is this Irritable Bowel Syndrome or fibroids?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects the colon or large intestine, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits (such as diarrhea, constipation, or both). While it affects a different part of the body than fibroids, there are IBS symptoms that can be mistaken for UF.
Both IBS and fibroids often cause serious abdominal discomfort, but the actual location and duration of the pain typically differs. IBS-related pain is often described as cramping and may be relieved after a bowel movement. In contrast, fibroid-related pain tends to be more localized in the pelvic area and may be linked to the menstrual cycle, or consistent throughout the month.
One of the most distinct features of IBS is that it causes changes in bowel movements, leading to either diarrhea or constipation. Sufferers may experience both on a regular basis. However, fibroids usually do not directly impact bowel patterns.
Another big difference between UF and IBS is their impact (or lack thereof) on the menstrual cycle. Fibroids are typically associated with longer and heavy periods, while IBS does not affect menstruation.
Could I have uterine cancer, or is it fibroids?
Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is a type of cancer that originates in the lining of the uterus (endometrium). The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, which may occur between periods or even after menopause. Other potential symptoms include pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, and unexplained weight loss.
Typically, fibroids aren’t associated with sudden weight loss or bleeding that occurs outside of the menstrual period. Those symptoms are typically indicative of a different medical issue at play, which may be uterine cancer.
While fibroids are non-cancerous and benign, they can still cause disruptive symptoms and may require treatment if they significantly impact a woman’s quality of life. But uterine cancer can be a life-threatening condition and requires immediate attention and appropriate medical management.
If you are experiencing any sudden or acute symptoms related to your uterus, such as abnormal bleeding, persistent pain, or unexplained weight loss, it is crucial to seek medical evaluation from a healthcare professional. They can perform a thorough examination, order further tests, and provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan based on their findings.
Whether your symptoms are manageable or seriously disruptive to your daily life, it’s clear to reach out to a doctor in order to understand what, if any, conditions you have. Thanks to advancement in modern medicine, there are non-invasive tests that can help practitioners make definitive diagnoses and get you started on a treatment path that will improve your quality of life.
For many conditions, including fibroids, early detection and intervention is key. Don’t wait – speak to a healthcare professional about your symptoms and take the first step towards feeling better.