The words uterine fibroids are known to instill the fear of God in many women, including those who have never had them. It is usually fear of the unknown because most people do not talk about them until they are growing in them.
When a friend of mine Goreti, got them, she allowed me to touch her slightly swollen abdomen and I got to feel them. She narrated to me her story where she said that the biggest question on her mind when she realized that she had fibroids was if she was ever going to have a baby.
She was eventually answered at the hospital and she told me that many women of childbearing age associate fibroids with infertility and hence the raw fear that sets in when they hear of the word. I did some research and here is what to know about fibroids.
Uterine fibroids which may also be called leiomyomas or myomas are muscular tumors that grow in your uterus. They rarely turn into cancer, and if you get them it doesn’t mean you’re more likely to get uterine cancer.
Fibroids can vary a lot in size, shape, and location. They can show up in your uterus, uterine wall, or on its surface and can also attach to your uterus by a stalk- or stem-like structure.
Some of them are so small that doctors cannot see them with the naked eye while others grow in big masses that can affect the size and shape of the uterus.
Although uterine fibroids usually appear in women of childbearing age — generally between 30 and 40 years old, they can show up at any age.
They are also more common in African-American women than in white women and tend to show up earlier and grow quicker in African-Americans, as well. The reasons for this are not known yet.
Many women who have fibroids don’t have any symptoms and those that do have the symptoms are usually influenced by the location, size, and a number of fibroids. In women who have symptoms, the most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
• Heavy menstrual bleeding
• Menstrual periods lasting more than a week
• pressure or pain
• Frequent urination
• Difficulty Pelvic emptying the bladder
• Backache or leg pains
In rare occasions, a fibroid can cause acute pain when it outgrows its blood supply and begins to die.
Fibroids are generally classified by their location. Intramural fibroids grow within the muscular uterine wall. Submucosal fibroids bulge into the uterine cavity while Subserosal fibroids project to the outside of the uterus.
One should always take precaution and see a doctor when you notice such symptoms
• Pelvic pain that doesn’t go away
• Overly heavy, prolonged or painful periods
• Spotting or bleeding between periods
• Difficulty emptying your bladder
If you have severe vaginal bleeding or sharp pelvic pain that comes on suddenly also seek immediate medical attention.
The cause of uterine fibroids has not yet been identified, but research and clinical experts point to these factors:
• Genetic changes where many fibroids contain changes in genes that differ from those in normal uterine muscle cells.
• Hormones where estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that stimulate development of the uterine lining during each menstrual cycle in preparation for pregnancy, appear to promote the growth of fibroids. Fibroids contain more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle cells do. Fibroids tend to shrink after menopause due to a decrease in hormone production.
• Other growth factors also contribute to one having fibroids and this occurs when substances that help the body maintain tissues, such as insulin-like growth factor, may affect fibroid growth.
• Getting your first period at a young age
• Birth control use
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Eating too much red meat and not enough green vegetables, fruit, or dairy
Doctors believe that uterine fibroids develop from a stem cell in the smooth muscular tissue of the uterus (myometrium). A single cell divides repeatedly, eventually creating a firm, rubbery mass distinct from nearby tissue.
The growth patterns of uterine fibroids vary — they may grow slowly or rapidly, or they may remain the same size. Some fibroids go through growth spurts, and some may shrink on their own. Many fibroids that have been present during pregnancy shrink or disappear after pregnancy, as the uterus goes back to a normal size.
There are few known risk factors for uterine fibroids, other than being a woman of reproductive age. Other factors that can have an impact on fibroid development include:
• Heredity. If your mother or sister had fibroids, you’re at increased risk of developing them.
• Race. Black women are more likely to have fibroids than women of other racial groups. In addition, black women have fibroids at younger ages, and they’re also likely to have more or larger fibroids.
• Environmental factors. The onset of menstruation at an early age; use of birth control; obesity; a vitamin D deficiency; having a diet higher in red meat and lower in green vegetables, fruit and dairy; and drinking alcohol, including beer, appear to increase your risk of developing fibroids.
Although uterine fibroids usually aren’t dangerous, they can cause discomfort and may lead to complications such as anemia from heavy blood loss.
Pregnancy and Fibroids
Fibroids usually don’t interfere with getting pregnant. However, it is possible that fibroids especially submucosal fibroids could cause infertility or pregnancy loss. Fibroids may also raise the risk of certain pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption, fetal growth restriction, and preterm delivery.
If you have fibroids, there is no way of knowing for certain whether they are affecting your fertility. Fibroids are the cause of infertility in only a small number of women. Most women with fibroids have no trouble getting pregnant.
If a fibroid distorts the wall of the uterus, it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. This may make an in vitro fertilization less likely to be successful, if the fertilized egg doesn’t implant after it is transferred to the uterus.
Surgical fibroid removal, called myomectomy, may improve your chances of having a baby. Because fibroids can grow again, it is best to try to become pregnant as soon as possible after a myomectomy.
Early pregnancy has been proven to reduce the risk of getting fibroids. Girls who get pregnant while still young have a much lower risk of getting the uterine fibroids.