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What Is Adenomyosis?

Adenomyosis is a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus (the myometrium). Adenomyosis can cause menstrual cramps, lower abdominal pressure, and bloating before menstrual periods and can result in heavy periods. The condition can be located throughout the entire uterus or localized in one spot.

Though adenomyosis is considered a benign (not life-threatening) condition, the frequent pain and heavy bleeding associated with it can have a negative impact on a woman's quality of life.

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What Are the Symptoms of Adenomyosis?

While some women diagnosed with adenomyosis have no symptoms, the disease can cause:

  • Heavy, prolonged menstrual bleeding
  • Severe menstrual cramps
  • Abdominal pressure and bloating

Who Gets Adenomyosis?

Adenomyosis is a common condition. It is most often diagnosed in middle-aged women and women who have had children. Some studies also suggest that women who have had prior uterine surgery may be at risk for adenomyosis.

Though the cause of adenomyosis isn't known, studies have suggested that various hormones -- including estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and follicle stimulating hormone -- may trigger the condition.

Diagnosing Adenomyosis

Until recently, the only definitive way to diagnose adenomyosis was to perform a hysterectomy and examine the uterine tissue under a microscope. However, imaging technology has made it possible for doctors to recognize adenomyosis without surgery. Using MRI or transvaginal ultrasound, doctors can see characteristics of the disease in the uterus.

If a doctor suspects adenomyosis, the first step is a physical exam. A pelvic exam may reveal an enlarged and tender uterus. An ultrasound can allow a doctor to see the uterus, its lining, and its muscular wall. Though ultrasound cannot definitively diagnose adenomyosis, it can help to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Another technique sometimes used to help evaluate the symptoms associated with adenomyosis is sonohysterography. In sonohysterography, saline solution is injected through a tiny tube into the uterus before an ultrasound is given.

MRI -- magnetic resonance imaging -- can be used to confirm a diagnosis of adenomyosis in women with abnormal uterine bleeding.

Because the symptoms are so similar, adenomyosis is often misdiagnosed as uterine fibroids. However, the two conditions are not the same. While fibroids are masses of tissue attached to the uterine wall, adenomyosis is a growth within the uterine wall. An accurate diagnosis is key in choosing the right treatment.

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