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.
The Causes of Uterine Fibroids
We don’t know what actually causes fibroids in women, but it is thought that female hormones oestrogen and progesterone play a leading role. They start to grow in women at reproduction maturity and then after menopause, fibroids can actually shrink due to the decreased levels of hormones.
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
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
If you got your period much earlier than others, this is also thought to be a trigger as you have those female hormones swimming around your body causing havoc!
But – you are less likely to have fibroids if you:
- Have had more than two full term pregnancies
- Used the pill or Depo-Provera as contraceptives
What’s the Difference Between Fibroids and Endometriosis?
The difference between fibroids and endometriosis is where they grow. Fibroids are solid growths (tumours) that grow in the muscle layers of the uterus. Endometriosis is the tissue that usually grows in the uterus to prepare for an egg (ie your period before it comes out) but is growing where it shouldn’t be. Both can cause significant pain, pressure and period problems in women.
The 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
Fibroids on Fertility and Pregnancy
Because fibroids grow in the uterus walls, if they grow large enough, they can cause infertility as they can block the implantation of a fertilised egg. Or if the egg does implant on top of a fibroid, this could place a lot of pressure on the placenta which can in turn reduce the blood flow to the baby, which could cause a miscarriage, still birth or premature delivery.
In some rare cases fibroids can grow in the lower part of the uterus which can can block the delivery of a pregnancy – resulting in cesarean birth. However this is usually picked up during pregnancy scans.
In very rare cases, fibroids can become cancerous.
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 affect your life.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
If you are diagnosed as having fibroids, you’ll want to understand more about it. So, here are some questions you should consider asking your doctor. Remember, the key with any condition is to be fully aware of it in full, so do your research and talk with your doctor.
Some handy questions to have on hand to ask your doctor when/if you have been diagnosed with fibroids include:
- How many fibroids do I have?
- What size is my fibroid(s)?
- Where is my fibroid(s) located (outer surface, inner surface, or in the wall of the uterus)?
- Can I expect the fibroid(s) to grow larger?
- How rapidly have they grown (if they were known about already)?
- How will I know if the fibroid(s) is growing larger?
- What problems can the fibroid(s) cause?
- What tests or imaging studies are best for keeping track of the growth of my fibroids?
- What are my treatment options if my fibroid(s) becomes a problem?
- What are your views on treating fibroids with a hysterectomy versus other types of treatments?
Treatment of Fibroids
Unfortunately, there’s no medicine that will cure your fibroids. However, there are certain medications that can affect your oestrogen levels and hormone levels. These usually mimic the symptoms of menopause, and they can be more difficult to deal with than the fibroids themselves. This kind of medication can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
As well as medication, there are some surgical procedures that can treat fibroids including Myomectomy, Uterine Artery Embolisation (UAE), Endometrial Ablation or Resection and Hysterectomy. Obviously, each procedure comes with it’s own risks and benefits and should be discussed with your doctor.
For more information about Uterine Fibroids, visit the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention – we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice – https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.