Uterine Polyps vs. Fibroids: Is There a Difference?
Posted bySarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Up to 14 percent of women experience irregular or excessively heavy uterine bleeding, also known as AUB, according to American Family Physician. AUB is defined as any bleeding that differs from your normal cycle — whether in amount, how often, timing (such as between your regular periods) or after menopause.1
If you’re one of these women, you might already know that AUB may be caused by polyps or fibroids that grow in your uterus. But are there differences between uterine polyps and uterine fibroids? As it turns out, yes! However, if you have AUB, you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms and concerns. Your doctor can provide the correct diagnosis and talk to you about your treatment options.
First, the Similarities
There’s one obvious similarity between uterine polyps and fibroids: they are both abnormal growths that occur in your uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic.2,3 Some of the symptoms of AUB may be caused by both types of tissue, including heavy menstrual bleeding, irregular periods, or periods that last longer than normal.4,5 Also, it’s thought that hormones, specifically estrogen, may play a role in the development of both polyps and fibroids.5,6
If you think you have polyps or fibroids, your doctor can do several tests to make an accurate diagnosis. Ultrasound can be used in both cases to take pictures of your uterus using sound waves.7,8 Depending on the type of ultrasound device (transducer) used, it can be used either on top of your abdomen directly over your uterus or in your vagina to get the best pictures possible.
During this procedure, your doctor will insert a small, lighted wand (hysteroscope) through the cervix into your uterus, allowing him or her to visualize the inside of your uterus.7, 8
What Are the Differences?
Despite the fact that both polyps and fibroids may contribute to your AUB, there are some differences between the two that you should be aware of. First, it’s much more common for women to have uterine fibroids. In fact, up to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach 50 years old, calculates the Office on Women’s Health.9 Uterine fibroids begin in the myometrium, the smooth, muscular tissue that helps make up your uterus. They are masses of tissue that may be so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye, or large enough to change the shape of your uterus.3
While the exact cause of fibroids isn’t known, it’s thought several factors play a role in their development. You may be more likely to develop fibroids if you have a relative, like your mother or sister, who has them. Race may also play a role, as women of African descent have higher rates of fibroids and are diagnosed with them at earlier ages than women of other ethnicities. Your lifestyle and environment may also influence your chances of having fibroids. Women who have periods at earlier ages, take birth control pills, or have vitamin D deficiencies might all be more likely to have fibroids.5
In comparison, uterine polyps are not as common as fibroids and they arise from a different part of your uterus called the endometrium. The endometrium is a thin tissue lining that covers the inside of your uterus, and, when it grows more than normal, polyps may form. Usually, polyps are small, finger-like growths that push outward from your endometrium. They may be very small or as large as a golf ball, according to the National Institutes of Health.10
The risk factors for developing polyps are different than those for fibroids. Most women who develop polyps are either going through or have already gone through menopause. High blood pressure and obesity are also known risk factors. If you’ve ever taken certain medications for breast cancer, you may be more likely to develop uterine polyps.11
One of the most important differences between polyps and fibroids involves your ability to have children. Research suggests that having polyps may cause infertility, while most women with fibroids don’t have this issue.12,5 If you’re concerned about your family planning options, talk to your doctor about getting the most accurate diagnosis possible.
While both polyps and fibroids may cause symptoms of AUB, it’s important to get a firm diagnosis from your doctor as to what type of issue you have. Since there are differences between the two, knowing your exact diagnosis may help you manage your symptoms more easily and better plan for your future. You doctor can help you decide what’s the best plan for moving forward after your diagnosis.
1Sweet, Mary Gayle, et al. “Evaluation and Management of Abnormal Uterine Bleeding in Premenopausal Women.” American Family Physician, 1(85). January 1, 2012. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0101/p35.html
2“Uterine polyps, Definition.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/definition/con-20027472
3“Uterine fibroids, Overview.” Mayo Clinic. July 6, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/home/ovc-20212509
4“Uterine polyps, Symptoms.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/symptoms/con-20027472
5“Uterine fibroids, Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic. July 6, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/symptoms-causes/dxc-20212514
6“Uterine polyps, Causes.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/causes/con-20027472
7“Uterine polyps, Tests and diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20027472
8“Uterine fibroids, Diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic. July 6, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/diagnosis-treatment/diagnosis/dxc-20212528
9“Uterine fibroids.” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. February 6, 2017. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids
10“Endometrial polyps.” National Institutes of Health. November 14, 2014.https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007636.htm
11“Uterine polyps: Risk factors.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/risk-factors/con-20027472
12“Uterine polyps, Complications.” Mayo Clinic. August 29, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-polyps/basics/complications/con-20027472
- Posted by Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
- On July 10, 2017