Uterine fibroids and polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) are common concerns pertaining to the reproductive health of women. Both are affected by hormones and can impact menstruation. Most importantly, both can impact a woman’s fertility. While the two conditions share such similarities, it is important to understand whether there is a deeper link between the two. Before that, it is important to understand what each of these conditions is, individually.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the muscle layer of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. Also called leiomyomas or myomas, they vary in size, ranging from tiny seedlings to bulky masses that can distort and enlarge the uterus.
PCOD is a hormonal disorder in which small fluid-filled sacs develop on the ovaries, as a result of which the regular release of eggs is affected, causing menstrual abnormalities.
The link between fibroids and PCOD
There are a few key differences between fibroids and PCOS. While fibroids form in the uterus, PCOD is caused by the development of cysts in the ovaries. Fibroids are caused by excess secretion of the female hormone oestrogen whereas PCOD is caused by overproduction of androgens.
In the past, there existed medical consensus that fibroids and PCOD share no links. While it was acknowledged that both are caused by hormonal imbalances and often manifest through similar symptoms, it was believed that they are separate conditions that appear to be unrelated.
However, this line of thought was challenged by a six-year-long study of 23000 pre-menopausal African American women. The research conducted by Boston University Slone Epidemiology Centre tracked these African American women with no history of fibroids for a period of six years. They were mailed questionnaires about their reproductive health every two years and through these follow-ups, over 3000 cases of fibroids were reported. On correlating data, researchers found that the incidence of fibroids was 65% higher among women with PCOD than among women without PCOD. This made it evident that PCOD increases a woman’s risk for developing fibroids, at least among the African American population studied.
How are the two connected?
While the reason for PCOD increasing the risk of fibroids isn’t definitively known yet, one plausible theory centres around the irregular ovulation often caused by PCOD. When the ovaries fail to release an egg during the menstrual cycle, the body continues to release oestrogen without balancing it with progesterone. Such an imbalance marked by high levels of oestrogen could promote the development of fibroids.
While the study mentioned earlier reports a link between PCOD and fibroids, it is the first and only study to make such an observation. Additional research is required before conclusive statements can be made.
While fibroids and PCOD share similarities, there are key differences too. While the link between the two isn’t definitive yet, it is important to seek expert medical guidance for both conditions, since they have an important bearing on aspects of reproductive health, including fertility.