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Period Problems: What They Mean and When to See the Doctor

Painful Periods
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Uterine Polyps

Bleeding between periods -- whether heavy or just light "spotting" -- can be a sign of uterine polyps. This was the case for Linda Murray, a 32-year-old San Francisco woman. Polyps are benign growths on the inner lining of the uterus, and may form spontaneously or result from hormone overproduction.

 

"I started having a period all the time, like spotting but a little more," says Murray. She endured almost constant spotting for six months before consulting her doctor. "I had to wear a panty-liner every day," she remembers.

 

Murray speaks easily about the situation now that she's undergone minor surgery to remove the polyps. "I didn't know what it was," she says. "I started asking my friends, 'Do you get this?' When I finally went to the doctor, she knew right away what it was. It was a relief."

Fibroids

Fibroids are common benign tumors often found in the uterus. They can form when estrogen stimulates the uterine tissue, and may cause spotting and infertility. Fibroids typically occur in women 30-40 years of age, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and are the most common reason for hysterectomy in the U.S. Many fibroids don't cause symptoms, and they tend to get smaller or go away with pregnancy or menopause.

 

"If fibroids are not causing pain, excessive bleeding, or other problems, they are best left alone, particularly if the patient is approaching menopause, when the tumors will generally shrink," explains Roberson. Hormone treatments can sometimes shrink fibroids. There are surgical treatments less extensive than hysterectomy that can be used in certain cases, particularly in younger women or those who plan to become pregnant.

When a Hysterectomy Is Needed

It was a hysterectomy that eventually improved Beth's endometriosis. Her doctor gave her two options: a "D and C" (dilation and curettage, where the lining of the uterus is scraped away) or a hysterectomy.

 

Harris chose the "D and C" first. But when it didn't help much, she consulted with her doctor and decided to go ahead with the hysterectomy. The results? "My lifestyle improved drastically, my physical strength went up, and I felt back to normal."

 

Not all women recover easily from a hysterectomy, however. A woman should make the decision only after a thorough discussion with her doctor.

 

Fortunately, most menstrual-bleeding abnormalities are the result of benign conditions, says Roberson, and can be treated without surgery.

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