If you’re approaching menopause and experience vaginal bleeding outside of your normal pattern, it could be due to a condition called uterine polyps.
It is known that almost a quarter of all women experience uterine polyps, an overgrowth of tissue in the endometrium. The fact is that uterine polyps often show no symptoms.
However, polyps occasionally form lower in the uterus, which can be problematic. 35% of infertility cases are linked to a polyp diagnosis. While these growths are generally benign, a small number of endometrial polyps are found to contain cancer.
Unless you or someone close to you has been previously diagnosed with an endometrial polyp, you are likely to know what that is. But these abnormal growths are common, with more than 200,000 cases per year in the United States alone.
The good news is if your polyps become problematic, they are treatable. Here is what you need to know.
What are uterine polyps?
Uterine polyps are small, soft growths on the inside of the uterus, or womb. They come from the tissue that lines the uterus, called the endometrium. That’s why they are also called endometrial polyps.
Uterine polyps range in size from a few millimeters — no larger than a sesame seed — to several centimeters — golf-ball-size or larger. They attach to the uterine wall by a large base or a thin stalk.
You can have one or many uterine polyps. They usually stay contained within your uterus, but occasionally, they slip down through the opening of the uterus (cervix) into your vagina.
Under the highest risk
Uterine polyps most commonly occur in women who are going through or have completed menopause, although younger women can get them, too. One of the things that can make you more likely to have polyps is age – they are more common in your 40s or 50s. That may be due to the changes in estrogen levels that happen right before and during menopause.
Doctors don’t know exactly why women get uterine polyps, but it may be related to changes in hormone levels. Uterine polyps are sensitive to the hormone estrogen. Each month, your estrogen levels rise and fall, directing the lining of the uterus to thicken and then shed during your period. It’s an overgrowth of that lining that makes a polyp.
Obesity, high blood pressure, and taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen can also raise your chances for uterine polyps.
The symptoms and diagnosis
You may not have any symptoms, especially if you have small polyps or just one. But of the clinical characteristics, abnormal uterine bleeding is the most common symptoms of endometrial polyps.
Many women who have uterine polyps show no symptoms at all. In others, one or more of the following symptoms may be present:
- Irregular menstrual bleeding, such as bleeding varying amounts at frequent but unpredictable intervals
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Excessively heavy menstrual periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Trouble getting pregnant
A diagnosis of polyp is often made by hysteroscopy. Hysteroscopy is a procedure where a thin a telescope is inserted into the uterine cavity allowing the surgeon to look inside the uterus.
An ultrasound scan can also detect a uterine polyp, but ultrasound scan is not always correct, especially in younger women who are still having menstrual periods, a thickened fold of the lining of the uterus may be interpreted as polyps on an ultrasound scan. To make an accurate diagnosis, a hysteroscopic examination is often needed.
The final diagnosis of uterine polyp is made when a polyp is removed and sent to the laboratory. The laboratory confirms the presence of polyp and what type of polyp it is.
Should you worry?
Experts assure that most uterine polyps are not cancer. But a small percentage can turn into cancer later on. The chances of that are higher if you have gone through menopause. The symptoms of polyps are similar to those of uterine cancer, so if you have any signs, it’s important to follow up with your doctor, so (s)he can find out what’s going on.
Polyps can also cause problems with fertility. They may keep you from getting pregnant or make you more likely to miscarry. That is because they can keep a fertilized egg from attaching to your uterus or block the fallopian tubes or cervix.
Treatment may make a difference, though. Some studies have found that removing polyps can help women get pregnant, but there is no clear proof that it works for everyone.
The wide range of medical and surgical options available for the treatment of endometrial polyps can cause stress and confusion for many women. Remember that your doctor has your interests at heart — don’t hesitate to seek their advice about any aspect of your treatment. This way you can be confident that you are receiving the best possible medical care.