By the time they reach age 50, up to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids. Fibroids don’t always cause symptoms but, when they do, they can be uncomfortable and cause debilitating pain that can impact quality of life. The good news? Women don’t have to live with fibroid pain.
What Are Fibroids?
Fibroids are abnormal muscular growths, or tumors that develop in or around the walls of the uterus. These growths are sometimes referred to as leiomyoma or simply “myoma.” Of the different types of fibroids, almost all of them are benign (non-cancerous).
Some women who have fibroids may never experience any negative side effects. However, fibroids can cause a variety of symptoms depending on their size and location in the uterus. Some common fibroid symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Heavy bleeding, spotting or irregular menstruation
- Increased urination
- Pelvic pain
- Back or leg pain (usually with larger fibroids)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t wait until your annual OB/GYN appointment to bring it up. Make an appointment and talk to your provider about your symptoms. If your symptoms sound like they might be a result of uterine fibroids, your provider will order an ultrasound or lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. From there, you can work together to determine a course of treatment that’s right for you.
Personal Risk Factors
While there is no single cause for fibroids, there are several factors that are known to increase a women’s risk of developing them throughout her life.
Age – As women age, their chance of developing abnormal muscle growths or experiencing other issues affecting the female reproductive system increase. Fibroids often develop in a woman’s 30s, 40s, and throughout the menopausal years. Fibroids can, however, develop in women in their twenties or late teens, so don’t rule out fibroids if the symptoms sound familiar to you.
Family history – Like many similar conditions, family history plays a major role in a women’s likelihood of experiencing fibroids throughout her life.
Obesity – Women who are overweight have a much higher chance of developing fibroids. In fact, their chances are 2-3 times greater.
Nutrition – It is no secret that our diet impacts nearly every aspect of our health and wellness. In this case, eating unhealthy amounts of red meat, unhealthy fats or consuming large amounts of alcohol may increase a woman’s risk for fibroids. Alternatively, a diet that incorporates plenty of green, leafy vegetables and other sources of fiber is known to decrease this risk.
Race – Although any woman of reproductive age can develop fibroids, black women are more likely to be affected by fibroids than are women of other racial groups. Additionally, black women statistically develop fibroids at younger ages, and are also likely to struggle with larger fibroids and more severe symptoms. It is especially important for black women to talk to their OB/GYN about their personal risk factors for fibroids, and to seek care if they are experiencing any related symptoms – even if they believe they are too young for fibroids.
Fibroids and Fertility
Many women who are diagnosed with fibroids at a young age worry about how it may impact their fertility or their chances for a safe pregnancy. While many women with fibroids are able to conceive successfully, fibroids that develop in the inner layer of the uterus (called submucosal fibroids) can cause infertility or pregnancy loss. If you are diagnosed with submucosal fibroids, talk to your Ob/Gyn about your options for pregnancy.
Fibroids can also cause complications during pregnancy, including preterm delivery or placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus before birth. While these risks are rare, notify your Ob/Gyn of any history of fibroids so they can help you manage this risk throughout your pregnancy.
Fortunately, women who do have fibroid pain have plenty of options to consider. Fibroid treatments are typically designed both around the needs of the patient to address their specific symptoms. Factors like the location or size of the fibroids may be taken into consideration before your physician designates a course of treatment.
If your symptoms are mild or you have only a few small fibroid growths, your Ob/Gyn may recommend some lifestyle changes or non-surgical interventions as a first option. Manual therapies like acupuncture or massage have also proven to be effective in terms of addressing fibroid pain. Lifestyle changes like light exercise, weight loss and stress management can also help mitigate fibroid pain or discomfort.
In cases where these treatments do not prove effective, your provider may explore medical or surgical intervention. Several medications that are commonly used for birth control can be prescribed in order to help women manage their fibroid symptoms. For more severe cases, the surgical removal of a fibroid or the uterus itself (hysterectomy) may be considered.
At Main Line Health, our women’s health specialists advocate for every woman to receive the highest level of care. We offer patients innovative and individualized treatment plans, and are equipped to provide a variety of specialized surgical care options.