You might have heard of endometriosis, but what about adenomyosis? Here we take a look at both conditions, along with their symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
- Adenomyosis is a condition where the tissue that usually lines the uterus (endometrium) grows into the muscle layer of the uterus. Endometriosis is when tissue similar to the endometrium grows outside of the uterus.
- Both adenomyosis and endometriosis can cause painful and heavy periods, pelvic pain, and pain when having sex.
- The exact cause of adenomyosis and endometriosis is still unknown, which makes both difficult to diagnose.
- Treatment for both adenomyosis and endometriosis includes hormonal birth control, pain medications, and sometimes surgery.
What are the similarities and differences between adenomyosis and endometriosis?
First things first: What exactly are endometriosis and adenomyosis? To explain the conditions, we need to do a quick biology lesson. Your uterus has a layer of tissue called endometrium. During your menstrual cycle, hormones cause this layer to build up to support a possible pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, the layer will shed. This is your period.
If you have endometriosis, tissue similar to the endometrium grows outside of your uterus, often affecting your reproductive organs such as your ovaries and uterine tubes. It could even grow in areas such as your bladder, bowels, rectum, or more rarely, your lungs, diaphragm, and kidneys. Just like the endometrium in your uterus, this tissue is also affected by your hormones, meaning it grows and bleeds throughout your cycle. This can lead to the surrounding tissue becoming inflamed, which can cause issues such as ovarian cysts, adhesions, and scar tissue.
Adenomyosis is a condition where the tissue that usually lines your uterus (endometrium) grows into the muscle layer of the uterus, causing it to double or triple in size. The exact cause isn’t known, although risk factors include being aged 35 to 50, prior childbirth, and having uterine surgery, such as a cesarean section.
- Painful, heavy, or irregular periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Difficulty conceiving or infertility
- Pain when peeing or pooping
- Diarrhea or constipation during your period
It’s worth noting that these symptoms can affect everyone differently, so you might experience some, all, or none of the symptoms above to a different extent. Having more severe symptoms does not necessarily mean you have a more severe form of endometriosis.
- Heavy periods
- Pain during sex
- Pain in your pelvis
- Severe cramping or a sharp pain in your pelvis during your period
- Problems conceiving or infertility
Some factors that may increase your risk of endometriosis include:
- Starting your period for the first time before the age of 11
- Having short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days long)
- Having heavy periods that last for more than seven days
- Having a close relative, such as a mother or sister, with the condition
- Having an abnormal uterus (this would only be diagnosed by a doctor)
Factors that may increase your risk of adenomyosis include:
- Giving birth
- Being middle aged
- Having had previous surgeries on your uterus, such as a C-section or fibroid removal
One of these is retrograde menstruation. This is when period blood flows upward through your uterine tubes instead of leaving your body through your vagina. This is normal, but researchers believe this can lead to endometrial cells sticking to your pelvis and other body parts, causing endometriosis.
There could also be a genetic component to endometriosis. This means that if you have a family history of the condition, you could be at an increased risk of developing it yourself. If you have any concerns, be sure to reach out to your health care provider for advice.
The cause of adenomyosis is also still unknown, but again, experts have a few theories. One suggests that during surgeries that affect the uterus, such as C-sections, cells from the uterine lining may enter the muscles of the uterus wall.
Some experts also believe that after childbirth, inflammation of the uterine lining may disturb the normal boundary of cells that line the uterus, causing adenomyosis. As with endometriosis, more research is needed to determine the actual cause.
How common are they?
It’s estimated that endometriosis affects around 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, and it’s most often diagnosed in women in their 30s or 40s. There aren’t any specific statistics on how common adenomyosis is, but it’s more likely to be diagnosed in women over 40 or women who have had surgery on their uterus.
However, diagnosing adenomyosis or endometriosis isn’t straightforward, so they could be more common than we think. Because they share symptoms, they’re often mistaken for one another. It’s also possible to have both adenomyosis and endometriosis at the same time.