In 2018 actress Gabrielle Union revealed that she had been diagnosed with adenomyosis — and she believed that it could have been part of the reason she’s had issues with her fertility.
“The reality is I actually have adenomyosis and the gag is that I had adenomyosis in my early twenties,” Union said at 2019 BlogHer conference in New York.
What is adenomyosis?
Union’s announcement shed a spotlight on a condition that’s not often spoken about but affects a number of women across the globe.
Adenomyosis most commonly affects women between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can also occur in younger women, as is the case with Union.
It’s a condition where the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. While the cause is unknown, it’s understood that certain medical procedures such as a Caesarean section, and the termination of pregnancy can lead to adenomyosis — among other things.
The result? Having adenomyosis can result in menstrual cramps, bloating, heavy periods and lower abdominal discomfort.
Mediclinic outlines the symptoms of adenomyosis as:
- Prolonged periods or abnormal bleeding
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Painful periods
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine notes that only one in three women will experience symptoms.
“Women with adenomyosis are often asymptomatic,” the study says. “Symptoms can be severe, leading to a decrease in quality of life indexes, but the symptoms can also be a manifestation of other concomitant disorders such as uterine fibroids”
Women that are most at risk for adenomyosis include women of child-bearing age and women who have had children (women who’ve had more than one child experience a higher risk). The same study also suggests that those who’ve had surgery that involved their uterus might also be at risk for developing adenomyosis.
How prevalent is it?
It’s difficult to tell just how many women it affects because there isn’t a lot of research available on the condition, partly due to how difficult it is to diagnose. But in the UK (according to their National Health Service), every one in 10 women will have the condition.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital reveals that more than 90% of women with the condition have another condition that affects the uterus.
“Fifty percent of patients have associated fibroids, approximately 11% have endometriosis, and 7% have endometrial polyps,” the hospital writes. “The symptoms of these associated conditions often make it difficult to diagnose adenomyosis.”
If you’ve been diagnosed with adenomyosis, and you only experience mild symptoms, then your treatment would probably include over-the-counter medication to manage the pain and a heating pad for managing cramps.
Sometimes hormone therapy is used for symptoms like heavy bleeding and/or painful periods. This can include oral contraceptive pills and inserting a levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device (IUD) into the uterus.
Some instances may require non-invasive to minimally invasive or invasive surgery to:
- Cut off the area of the uterus that’s affected.
- Cut off blood supply to the affected area (uterine artery litigation).
- Focused ultrasound surgery that allows doctors to use high-frequency and high-energy ultrasound waves to focus on a small point to produce a rise in tissue temperature adequate enough to cause irreparable cell damage on that specific point (MRgFUS: Magnetic Resonance-Guided Focused Ultrasound Surgery).
- Completely remove the uterus (hysterectomy) which eliminates adenomyosis.
“The therapeutic goal of medical treatment is directed towards symptom control and the wish to conceive,” one study says. “Surgical treatment is the most effective treatment in terms of clinical improvement in symptomatic adenomyosis. The choice for a surgical approach is dependent on the woman’s wish to preserve fertility.”
The bright side? More often than not, menopause relieves the symptoms of adenomyosis and with all the research currently happening around the condition, less invasive options with a higher success rate are definitely on the cards for the future.