Figuring out Fibroids

If you are one of the 20% of women who develop fibroids, the following can help you navigate your way through this uterine maze. While not generally a life-threatening condition, fibroids can certainly be a life-changing condition if not treated.

Fibroids are non-cancerous (benign) tumors that grow from the muscle layers of the uterus (womb). They are also known as uterine fibroids, myomas, or fibromyomas. Fibroids are growths of smooth muscle and fibrous tissue. They can vary in size, from that of a bean to as large as a melon.

Women aged between 30 and 50 are the most likely to develop fibroids. Overweight and obese women are at significantly higher risk of developing fibroids, compared to women of healthy weight.

There are four types of fibroids:

  • Intramural
  • These are located in the wall of the uterus.
  • These are the most common types of fibroids.
  • Subserosal
  • These are located outside the wall of the uterus.
  • They can develop into pedunculated fibroids (stalks).
  • These can become quite large.
  • Submucosal
  • These are located in the muscle beneath the lining of the uterus wall.
  • Cervical
  • These are located in the neck of the womb (the cervix).

Experts cannot come to a common consensus about why fibroids occur, but they know this: when estrogen levels are high, especially during pregnancy, fibroids tend to swell. When estrogen levels are low, like during menopause, fibroids may shrink.

Heredity may also be a factor. Women whose mothers and/or sisters have/had fibroids have a higher risk of developing them too.

Most women have no symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • Anemia (as a result of heavy periods)
  • Backache
  • Constipation
  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen
  • Frequent urination
  • Heavy painful periods
  • Pain in the legs
  • Painful intercourse
  • Swelling in the lower abdomen

If a woman has no symptoms and the fibroids are not affecting her day-to-day life, she may receive no treatment at all. During menopause, symptoms will usually become less apparent or disappear altogether.

When treatment is necessary it may be in the form of medication or surgery.

The vast majority of fibroid cases do not result in complications. However, for a small minority they do.

Complications may include:

  • Menorrhagia (heavy periods)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Premature birth, labor problems, miscarriages
  • Infertility
  • Leiomyosarcoma - this is an extremely rare form of cancer that can develop inside the fibroids.

If you have experienced any of the symptoms discussed here, schedule an appointment with Dr. Strebel or Dr. Grolle.

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