What Are Uterine Polyps?
Uterine polyps, also called endometrial polyps, are small, soft growths on the inside of a woman’s uterus, or womb. They come from the tissue that lines the uterus, called the endometrium.
They can range in size from as small as a sesame seed to as big as a golf ball. You may have just one polyp or many of them at once.
Most uterine polyps aren’t cancer. Many women don’t have symptoms, and some don’t need treatment. But doctors have several ways to find and remove them.
Causes of Uterine Polyps
Experts don’t know exactly why women get uterine polyps. It may be linked to changes in hormone levels. Each month, your estrogen levels rise and fall, causing the lining of your uterus to thicken and then shed during your period. Polyps form when too much of that lining grows.
Some things might make you more likely to have polyps. One is age; they’re more common in your 40s or 50s. That may be due to the changes in estrogen levels that happen just before and during menopause.
You might also be at higher risk because of:
Symptoms of Uterine Polyps
You may not have any symptoms, especially if you have small polyps or only one. Talk to your doctor if you notice:
- Irregular periods, when you can’t predict their timing, length, or heaviness
- Heavy periods
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Trouble getting pregnant
Complications of Uterine Polyps
Most uterine polyps aren’t cancer. But some might turn into cancer later on. The chances of that happening are higher if you’ve gone through menopause.
Polyps can also cause problems with fertility. They may keep you from getting pregnant or make you more likely to miscarry. That’s because they can keep a fertilized egg from attaching to your uterus or block your fallopian tubes or cervix.
Some studies have found that removing polyps can help women get pregnant. But there’s no clear proof that it works for everyone.
Diagnosis of Uterine Polyps
Your doctor can look inside your uterus to check for polyps. If they see any, they may be able to remove them at the same time.
- Transvaginal ultrasound. Your doctor puts a slender wand-like device inside your vagina. It gives off sound waves and sends them to a computer to create images of the inside of your uterus.
- Hysterosonography or sonohysterography. Your doctor can use this procedure during a transvaginal ultrasound. They put a thin tube called a catheter inside your vagina and inject salt water into your uterus. The liquid expands your uterus to allow a clearer ultrasound.
- Hysteroscopy. Your doctor puts a thin, flexible, lighted telescope, called a hysteroscope, through your vagina and cervix and into your uterus. It lets them look at the tissue lining the inside. If they see polyps, they can use tools to remove them at the same time.
- Endometrial biopsy. Your doctor uses a soft plastic tool to take a piece of tissue from the lining of your uterus. They’ll send that tissue sample, called a biopsy, to a lab to test it for cancer cells.
- Curettage. You have this procedure in an operating room. Your doctor uses a metal instrument with a small loop on one end, called a curette, to get a piece of a polyp or the tissue in your uterus for testing. They can also use the curette to remove polyps.
Uterine Polyps Treatment
Depending on your case, your doctor might recommend:
- Watchful waiting. You may not need treatment if you don’t have any symptoms and the polyp isn’t cancer. It might go away on its own. But if you’re past menopause or at a higher risk for uterine cancer, your doctor will remove it.
- Medications. Progestins and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists help control your hormone levels. They may shrink polyps and ease symptoms, like heavy bleeding. But the symptoms often return when you stop taking the drug.
- Surgery. Doctors can usually remove polyps during the same procedures they use to diagnose them, such as hysteroscopy or curettage. Instead of making a cut in your belly, they can insert a curette or other surgical tools through your vagina and cervix to take the polyps out. If your polyps have cancer cells, you may need surgery to take out your entire uterus, called a hysterectomy.
Uterine Polyps vs. Fibroids
Polyps and fibroids are similar, but there are a few differences. Fibroids are overgrowths of the muscle inside the walls of your uterus, not the tissue lining the inside. Like polyps, they can cause heavy bleeding. But they can also cause pain, constipation, and trouble peeing.
The same tests can find fibroids and polyps. Your doctor will be able to see which one you have and recommend the best treatment.
Uterine Polyps Prevention
There’s no sure way to prevent uterine polyps. Losing extra weight might help lower your risk.
Polyps can come back, so get regular checkups from your doctor if you’ve had treatment.