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An Introduction to Uterine Diseases

An Introduction to Uterine Diseases
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  • 0:06 The Uterus
  • 1:04 Symptoms
  • 2:28 Causes
  • 5:27 Uterine Disease Examples
  • 8:35 Treatment
  • 9:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Ever wonder what role hormones play in diseases of the uterus? Or maybe you've wondered what diseases the uterus can get? Find out these things and more in this introduction to uterine diseases.

The Uterus

So, you're probably familiar with diseases of the heart, like heart attacks; or diseases of the brain, like brain tumors; and cancers, like skin cancer and breast cancer, but what about diseases of the uterus? Can you name one or two? Hmmm… okay, maybe just one? Hmmm… well, if you're like most people you probably don't know much about the uterus.

Well, you may be familiar with the function of the uterus - after all, you spent the first nine months of life developing in there. But what happens when things go wrong?

Disorders or diseases of the uterus can be detrimental, both physically and emotionally, especially if they affect a woman's ability to reproduce. There are many types and causes of uterine diseases. Some of these can be treated easily with medication, while other, more serious ones might require surgery.

Symptoms

So, how do you know? Well, if you are a female, that is, how do you know whether or not you have a problem with your uterus? Let's start by looking at the main symptoms or signs that a uterine disease might be present:

  • Abnormal bleeding: What do I mean by abnormal? Well, normally bleeding occurs during the menstrual period, so abnormal bleeding would be bleeding that occurred in between menstrual periods, you know, when there normally isn't any bleeding, or if the bleeding during menses was excessive or more than normal.
  • Abnormal pain in the lower back and pelvic areas: Now, all of us women know what normal cramps feel like, but what about when the pain occurs outside of menses? Or during menses, but it's a lot more painful than normal? Sometimes this can be a sign of diseases involving the growth of uterine tissue. However, it may be difficult to distinguish between some of the back pain and cramps associated with PMS.

I know, bleeding and pain, hmmm… pretty vague, right? Many of the symptoms of uterine diseases can be easy to miss, or mistaken for normal symptoms associated with PMS and menses. That's why anything unusual should always be discussed with a doctor.

Causes

But what about the causes of uterine diseases? What happens in our body that causes this essential reproductive organ to malfunction? Well, let's take a look!

This is a uterus! Now, normally, the uterus receives all sorts of signals from the body. These signals are called hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers the body uses to communicate from one organ to another. You can think of them like emails or texts with messages or instructions running around your body, well, technically, floating around in your blood stream I guess.

Okay, back to the uterus, hormones from the ovaries, these ones here. Estrogen and progesterone travel to the uterus where they tell it to either (1) prepare for the implantation of a fertilized egg, which, as you know, develops into a baby or (2) that fertilization didn't take place and to recycle its tissue. Okay, maybe not recycle as in re-use since most of the tissue is actually sent out of the body, so maybe think of it more like a monthly cleaning of the inside of the uterus. This monthly cleaning of tissue results in the blood that exits the body during menses.

While the exact causes of some uterine diseases are unknown, it is thought that abnormal hormones play a role in many of them. What do I mean by abnormal? Well, sometimes the hormone signals coming from the ovaries get mixed up and their levels are either too low or too high, and these abnormal levels can contribute to some of the diseases and disorders we see in the uterus. It's kind of like if you put too much flour into a cookie batter, then the cookies come out more like cake, and too little makes them really flat. But if the amount of flour is just right, then the cookies are perfect. Hmmm… sounds a little like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears, doesn't it?

Estrogen is normally responsible for promoting uterine tissue growth. However, in some cases, it can cause overgrowth. On the other hand, progesterone does the opposite; it antagonizes estrogen, slowing down or preventing tissue growth in the uterus. Other potential culprits include genetics! Ah yes, those tiny little pieces of DNA lurking inside all your cells. You see, your genes can make you who you are. But, problems or changes in your genetic code can create problems like cancer, tumors, or make you more likely to develop certain diseases.

While we may not know the exact causes of uterine diseases, we do know that in some cases estrogen and progesterone can make the situation worse, while in other cases they can be used for treatment. How can that be you may ask? Well, it all depends on the disease being treated.

Uterine Disease Examples

Let's take a look. First up, uterine fibroids. This disease is characterized by the presence of what looks like lumps all over the inside of the uterus. More technically speaking, it's the overgrowth of the smooth muscle tissue, or myometrium, of the uterus. So, what do we know about this tissue? Well, researchers have found that it has higher numbers of estrogen and progesterone receptors in it. What does that mean? Well, any tissue with a receptor for a certain hormone will respond to the presence of that hormone. So, uterine fibroids respond to the presence of estrogen and progesterone by growing bigger! Now, that probably makes sense if we think back to the role of estrogen, but it seems to be the opposite of what progesterone's normal role is.

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