Adenomyosis: A Hidden Condition that Can Change Your Life

You’ve probably heard of endometriosis. But did you know it has an evil twin sister?

Adenomyosis is often found in women who also have endometriosis. However, this is a different condition and requires different treatment. About one-third of women with adenomyosis have no symptoms. Others experience heavy, irregular, painful periods, and pre-menstrual bloating and discomfort. Symptoms can also include pain during sex and pain related to bowel movements. According to the NHS, around one in 10 women have adenomyosis. The illness is far from rare and can affect any woman that has periods.

So, what exactly is it? And how come you’ve never heard about it?

What is Adenomyosis?

The issue occurs when the inner cells of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) are found in the muscle wall of the womb (myometrium). Sometimes, the condition can be localised in one place. It is then known as adenomyoma. In some women, however, adenomyosis can be quite spread out, which the doctors refer to as generalised adenomyosis. The illness is most often present in women aged between 40 and 50 who already have children. In 20% of the cases, it occurs in younger women. If untreated, the pain will stop only after the menopause.

As already mentioned, adenomyosis often coincides with endometriosis. Endometriosis is characterised by womb tissue growing elsewhere in your body, for instance, your ovaries or fallopian tubes. The condition has received quite a lot of press. For example, March is Endometriosis Awareness Month across the globe. In contrast, we rarely read about its twin condition, adenomyosis. Also, adenomyosis is not as widely researched, so it is less likely you’ll see articles about it.

Why Can Adenomyosis be Such a Nuisance?

Let’s first make it clear that the condition is not dangerous in itself. However, the symptoms can be extremely challenging. Some women describe that their whole lives are put on hold as they negotiate the pain, tiredness, and associated distress.

Experts are not sure yet how adenomyosis affects your ability to conceive and have a baby. This is because it can often be difficult to separate the effects of the endometriosis from the impact of adenomyosis.  The good news is adenomyosis does not seem to decrease the chance of getting pregnant. It may, however, increase your risk of miscarrying or giving birth prematurely. You’ll probably need careful monitoring and support during pregnancy if you have the condition.

Another issue with adenomyosis is that it can be challenging to diagnose. In fact, it can take years (not to mention seeing a few specialists)! An ob-gyn specialist can see specific characteristics of the womb affected by adenomyosis already during a physical examination and a transvaginal ultrasound. An MRI scan and a laparoscopy (a keyhole surgery) give some indications as well. However, the only way an absolutely accurate diagnosis can be made is to look at your womb tissue under the microscope. This can be done if the womb is removed, a procedure known as hysterectomy.

What Should I Do If I Have Adenomyosis?

Different treatments are available and should be discussed with your doctor. Unfortunately, most therapies only address the symptoms, not the underlying cause. Due to that, some women can not find the right comfort and support. Treatment options range from doing nothing (if the symptoms are mild or you are trying to conceive) to having a hysterectomy (for severe cases and women who don’t want to become pregnant).

Some women also find relief with alternative therapies, such as yoga, meditation, and hypnotherapy. These can help reduce chronic pain. Body inflammation can also be tackled by introducing dietary and lifestyle changes.

Before embarking on a frenzied internet search, just a word of caution. Many women turn to online support forums. The information found there is often valuable in terms of emotional support; however, it should be interpreted with care. It’s always better to speak to a professional and find out about the latest scientific findings and what’s available in terms of treatment. We can expect to read more on adenomyosis in the future years as new information becomes available. Until then, we need to make sure the evil sister doesn’t get ignored!