Uterine fibroids are one of the most common causes for period problems. If you have painful periods, heavy bleeding during your periods, or pain during sexual intercourse, it’s possible that you may be suffering from fibroids.
Fibroids affect 20 percent of women (1 woman out of 5) in their reproductive years. The risk of getting a uterine fibroid increases with age. By age 50, an estimated 50 percent of all women (or 1 in 2) have fibroids.
Fibroids often present no symptoms, but common fibroid symptoms include:
- Period problems – including heavy periods; long periods (that last over 7 days), painful periods, and spotting between periods.
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain and cramping – such as bloating and abdominal pressure; pelvic cramping; and and pain felt in the pelvis, lower abdomen, or lower back.
- Urinary problems – including the need to urinate more often, and inability to hold your urine (stress incontinence).
Heavy and painful periods are the most common symptoms of fibroids, but these problems can also be caused by other reproductive health concerns – like endometriosis. Fibroids can lead to difficulty conceiving, so women who are trying to conceive may require treatment in order to get pregnant.
Fibroid symptoms can develop slowly over many years, but in some situations, they can develop rather quickly. Some women with fibroids have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, and they never require treatment.
What is a Uterine Fibroid?
Fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors or growths that can grow in your uterus (also called the womb). Medical names for uterine fibroids include fibroid tumors, myomas, and leiomyomas.
There are four places where fibroids can develop – inside the uterus (pendunculated fibroids), in the muscular wall of the womb (myometrial fibroids) under the surface of the lining of the uterus (submucosal fibroids), on the outside covering of the uterus (subserosal fibroids).
Uterine fibroids can range in size – from microscopical to the size of your entire your uterus. It’s possible for women to have only one fibroid, or multiple fibroids.
What Causes Fibroids?
Doctors do not know what exactly causes uterine fibroids, but the the female hormone, estrogen has been linked to the growth of fibroids. A woman’s body produces the highest levels of estrogen during her reproductive years, which is probably why fibroids only develop during these years. Fibroids normally shrink and disappear after menopause.
Treatment for Fibroids
Most women with uterine fibroids will never require treatment, since they do not have any major symptoms. For mild causes, doctors often recommend a “watch and wait” approach. However, if your fibroids are painful and causing period problems, you may want to discuss treatment with your healthcare provider.
Common treatments for fibroids include:
- Birth Control – Women with fibroids who are not interested in becoming pregnant may find that birth control is an effective treatment at treating their symptoms. Whether the birth control pill, patch, or ring, hormonal birth control will lighten a woman’s menstrual bleeding and decrease menstrual pain. Using an intrauterine device (IUD), which releases small amounts of progesterone into the uterus, may also decrease menstrual bleeding and lessen period pain.
- Hormone Injections – To help shrink uterine fibroids without invasive surgery, doctors may recommend having short-term hormone injections of gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRH-a), which basically tricks your body into thinking it’s in menopause. This shrinks your the fibroids, in addition to your uterus. Once the injections stop, however, the fibroids usually grow back.
- Myomectomy – For women who still want to get pregnant, a surgery called myomectomy can be performed. A myomectomy preserves a woman’s fertility, which is why it’s the preferred treatment for women who want to have future children. The downside to this surgery is that fibroids can grow back in the future.
- Uterine Artery Embolization – This is a surgical procedure that stops blood flow to the uterine fibroid, causing it to shrink and die. Unfortunately, pregnancy after uterine artery embolization is highly unlikely. This procedure is usually not an option for women who still have hopes for a baby in the future.
- Hysterectomy – Women who have severe fibroids may opt to undergo a hysterectomy to remove her uterus. This is often a last option, since it is invasive and comes with long-term consequences. Pregnant is not possible after a hysterectomy.
There are newer methods of treating fibroids, but the long-term risks and benefits are not well-known yet. They include using extreme cold or a laser to kill the fibroid.
If you have fibroids, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
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Read about Fibroids and Pregnancy.