Pelvic pain and changes to your period may be signs that you have a common benign gynecological condition, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis. With endometriosis affecting some 10% of all post-puberty girls and women worldwide, and with about two in every three women expected to develop uterine fibroids at some point in their lifetime, it’s clear that these conditions affect a huge number of women each year.
But while both fibroids and endometriosis involve the female reproductive organs and share some similar traits, they aren’t exactly the same thing. In fact, they are two different conditions which can affect you very differently. Here’s how their symptoms differ, and a breakdown of the likelihood that you have both endometriosis and fibroids.
What’s the difference between uterine fibroids and endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disease where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus in other places in the female reproductive system, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
It’s important to note that endometriosis isn’t exclusive to the female reproductive system. While it most commonly occurs in the lower abdomen or pelvis, it can also appear elsewhere in the body, including the bladder and colon. The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but many researchers believe it stems from retrograde menstruation, when uterine tissue flows.
Uterine fibroids are benign growths that occur within the uterus. They are composed of fibrous tissue and muscle, which may be small or large. Some women with fibroids experience no symptoms at all, whereas other women will feel debilitating pain and need medical intervention in order to relieve their symptoms.
Both uterine fibroids and endometriosis have the potential to cause abdominal and pelvic pain. These conditions are also linked to infertility and painful menstrual cycles.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis vs. uterine fibroids?
Both endometriosis and uterine fibroids can cause pelvic discomfort, as well as heavy periods. But there are a few key symptoms which can help you identify which of these conditions you’re most likely experiencing.
Endometriosis pain typically occurs in the early parts of the menstrual cycle, before your period begins. It’s often accompanied by uncomfortable, painful urination, especially during your period.
Fibroids generally cause longer menstrual cycles. They’ve also been linked to constipation. Both of these phenomena (longer periods and digestive or gastrointestinal issues) are not typically considered signs of endometriosis.
Additionally, fibroids may cause an enlarged uterus and a distended abdomen, colloquially known as “fibroid belly.” Women with endometriosis don’t typically experience the level of bloating associated with uterine fibroids.
Could I have both fibroids and endometriosis at the same time?
Feel like you have symptoms of both uterine fibroids and endometriosis? There’s a significant chance that you could be diagnosed with these two conditions at the same time.
Having endometriosis and fibroids is actually fairly common. Researchers at Oulu University Hospital in Finland found that 25% of women with a primary diagnosis of endometriosis also have uterine fibroids. They also discovered that nearly 20% of women treated for fibroids are found to also have endometriosis.
An additional retrospective study on women with severe fibroids who needed serious surgical interventions, including laparoscopic myomectomies and hysterectomies, found that the vast majority of these patients were also diagnosed with endometriosis.
According to that study, some 86% of women who needed these surgical interventions had both endometriosis and fibroids, while just 14% were found to have uterine fibroids alone.
If you’re experiencing pelvic or abdominal pain, changes to your menstrual cycle, or recurring pain with sex, it’s critical that you see your gynecologist.
Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose you, order the medical imaging tests that you need in order to gain a better understanding into your condition, and provide a treatment framework that can relieve your pain and uncomfortable symptoms and improve your quality of life.