Endometriosis and fibroids are common gynaecological problems, affecting one in three and one in four women respectively. Both conditions can cause the sufferer uncomfortable pelvic pains, but what is the difference between them and how can you tell them apart?
What exactly causes these conditions?
Endometriosis is caused when part of the uterus lining attaches itself to the ovaries, fallopian tubes and intestines.
Fibroids are benign lumps of connective tissue and muscle that grow on the wall of the uterus. They can vary in number and size from a pea to a grapefruit, it is generally the larger fibroids that cause problems as many women are unaware that they have them. They are influenced by hormones and generally shrink after the menopause.
How will I know if I have endometriosis or fibroids?
Symptoms of endometriosis include intense pain and severe cramping, which is heightened during periods and sexual intercourse.
Fibroids are harder to detect as the symptoms aren’t quite as extreme. Larger fibroids can include swelling, very heavy or abnormal periods and pain or discomfort during sex.
What would happen if these conditions remained untreated?
As with all gynaecological problems, it is important to get a professional opinion from a Private Gynaecologist or private GP as soon as possible.
Undetected cases of endometriosis could possibly affect your chances of conceiving.
Larger fibroids can lead to urinary problems and backache, due to extra pressure placed on the bladder.
What does the treatment involve?
Obviously each individual case is different and your consultant would advise you accordingly, however, there are some common treatments for the two conditions.
The initial treatment for endometriosis may involve taking medication to stop your menstrual cycle, a continuous dose of the contraception pill can be used for this purpose. Laser treatment, backed up with hormones is another option.
In more severe cases, surgery under general anaesthetic may be required. This, however, isn’t always a long-term solution, as endometriosis can often return. A more permanent option, open to older women who have completed their family, is a hysterectomy alongside HRT.
In the case of treating fibroids, your private GP is likely to determine the treatment according to the results of an ultrasound scan of your uterus.
Anti-oestrogen hormone treatments can be used to shrink fibroids, however, they do have side effects so this treatment is only advised as a short-term solution.
A hysteroscopy (where a telescope is passed through the cervix) can be used to remove small fibroids.
If the fibroids are numerous, your consultant may suggest a myomectomy. This means that the fibroids are effectively removed whilst the uterus is left intact, enabling you to still go on to have a family.
In more severe cases, especially if the patient has already completed their family, a hysterectomy may be a consideration.
What is the next step?
Aside from making an appointment with a private GP or gynaecologist to determine the nature and severity of the problem, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to help ease the symptoms. As both fibroids and endometriosis involve heavy periods and blood loss, maintaining iron levels is important. Eating a diet rich in green vegetables and whole grains, plus taking daily iron supplements is recommended, along with regular exercise. Eating organic produce can help counteract hormonal imbalances and reduce fatigue. Strangely, women suffering from fibroids can actually crave ice, this is called Pica which comes from a loss of iron in the blood.
As with all medical conditions, the earlier the symptoms are identified, the easier they are to treat. If you think that you may be suffering from fibroids or endometriosis make sure you seek professional help as soon as possible.