There’s so much going on with a woman’s body as she ages, it’s not surprising that we can’t keep track of everything.
In fact, just the other day, I was introduced to a new women’s health issue I’d never heard about before called Uterine Fibroids.
I was having coffee with a friend and chatting to her about her issues on the TTC train (a.k.a. trying to conceive). She was trying for another child and in her mid-30’s when she was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Now, I’d heard of cysts on the ovaries and scar tissue in the uterine walls, but uterine fibroids? What the hell were they?
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Much like polyps in the colon wall, fibroids are muscular tumours that appear in the uterine wall, also known as myomas or *super medical jargon alert* leiomyomas. Fibroids are almost always benign (non-cancerous) and can grow in single tumours or groups, but never spread to any other part of the body. They can be as small as an apple seed, or as big as a grapefruit. Amazingly, a staggering 80% of women will have fibroids by the time they reach 50.
Fibroids are most common in women in their 40’s and 50’s but not all women will have symptoms so you might have them and not know. In fact, after menopause, fibroids can actually shrink. Now, there are factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids, including:
- Family History
- Ethnic origin – women of African heritage are more likely to develop fibroids
- Eating Habits – over-consumption of red meat and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids
Symptoms of Fibroids
In many people, uterine fibroids don’t cause any problems. However, for some women, the condition can cause painful symptoms. It generally depends on the location of the fibroids in the uterus, among other things.
Some possible symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Heavy bleeding or painful, prolonged periods (which can lead to anemia from blood loss)
- Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area
- Enlargement or swelling of abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
- Complications during pregnancy and childbirth
- Reproductive problems, including infertility
Although it does seem that oestrogen makes fibroids grow, it’s not thought to be the thing that causes their initial development. Women are more likely to develop fibroids if they have a mother or sister with fibroids, have never had children, got their period early, or are overweight. Interestingly, it seems that pregnancy and childbirth can prevent the development of fibroids.
Diagnosis of Fibroids
When women don’t have symptoms of fibroids, they tend to go undetected. However, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, a visit to the doctor will allow them to figure out how severe your fibroid problems are. This could involve an internal exam, an ultrasound scan, some kind of specialised imaging tests, and potentially an MRI scan. Your doctor will be able to give you more information following the scans about how the fibroids might effect your life.