Tumors (abnormal growths) are becoming more and more common in the world. For women, a particularly common type of tumor is a uterine fibroid. Luckily, most of the time fibroids are benign. This means that they can be removed easily or treated.
If you have been diagnosed with a uterine fibroid by your doctor, don’t let this information scare you. Most of the time, women diagnosed with fibroids do not suffer any setbacks health-wise. In fact, some may not need treatment at all.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are growths or non-cancerous tumors of the womb. They can happen in as many as 3 out of 4 women. Often, more than one fibroid may be found in the womb. Uterine fibroids usually occur during the childbearing years, from the late twenties to the early forties.
A lot of the time, they do not produce any symptoms. During these times you may find out by chance when having a gynecological exam or sometimes during an ultrasound when you are pregnant. Uterine fibroids are not an indication that you will get uterine cancer. It is extremely rare for these growths to turn cancerous (there’s only about a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening).
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Symptoms that may appear when a woman has uterine fibroids include:
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis
- Difficulty in urinating completely
- Frequent urination
- Backache or pains in the leg
The symptoms you may experience if you have uterine fibroids vary according to the size and location of the fibroids in your uterus. If the fibroid is growing from the inner part of your uterus, you may also have trouble conceiving a child.
Causes of Uterine Fibroids
It’s not clear exactly why uterine fibroids occur in some women and not in others. However, from research and studies, there could be some possible causes of uterine fibroids.
- Some genetic transformation takes place inside the body that leads to this abnormal growth of the uterine lining.
- Certain hormones and substances in the body may contribute to fibroid growth. These include the naturally occurring hormones estrogen, progesterone, and insulin-like growth factor.
Factors that Contribute to Uterine Fibroid Formation
The direct causes behind uterine fibroids are largely unknown. However, there are several factors that may determine whether or not you develop a uterine fibroid. These factors include:
- Genetics- If a female family member such as your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother has had fibroids before, then the risk is higher that you will get them.
- History of pregnancy and giving birth- Your chances of developing uterine fibroids may be lessened if you have gotten pregnant before and given birth.
- Oral contraceptives- There have been studies that show a strong link between the use of oral contraceptives and the development of uterine fibroids.
- Race- Some races are more inclined to develop uterine fibroids than others eg black women.
Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids
If you suspect that you have a uterine fibroid you should definitely see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will ask you a few questions and carry out a physical examination, especially in the pelvic region. If the doctor finds some lumps in the pelvic area, or if he or she suspects that it really is a uterine fibroid, usually an ultrasound or other types of tests are carried out so that the doctor can get a better look inside your womb.
Sometimes, a biopsy is carried out where the doctor takes a sample of your uterine tissue to test in the lab. Most of the tests for uterine fibroids are not painful, so you have nothing to worry about.
Treatment Options for Uterine Fibroids
If you have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, there are a number of treatment options that your doctor may suggest to you. The treatment provided to you may vary according to your individual condition, after taking several things into consideration including:
- Whether you wish to have children,
- If you are in pain,
- If the fibroids are affecting your day to day life, and so on.
Examples of treatments used for uterine fibroids include:
- Pain relieving drugs, and drugs to shrink the fibroid (in preparation for surgery, or just to lessen symptoms). Examples of drugs that may be prescribed include ibuprofen, oral contraceptive pills (to decrease pain associated with heavy menstrual flow), mifepristone, and so on.
- Surgery. The type of surgery that is carried out depends on the size of the fibroids, whether you need/want to keep your womb (if you wish to become pregnant), and other factors. If you are of childbearing age and want to have children, chances are the doctors will only remove the fibroids during the surgery. If you have reached menopause or are not planning to have any more children, then the doctors may opt to remove your entire womb (with the fibroids). Lately, there is also a procedure that is becoming increasingly popular where the blood supply to the fibroids is cut off so that its size shrinks.
Getting diagnosed with uterine fibroids may seem scary, but in the modern world it is a common ailment that many women experience. Uterine fibroids may not always cause a woman any kind of trouble, and in these situations they often go by unnoticed. Even if they are diagnosed, fibroids that don’t cause any symptoms may just be left alone. If you are among the women who do have symptoms and have to undergo treatment, you have learned that treatment is simple and rarely has any complications. So just do what your doctor tells you, and you’ll be just fine.
Uterine fibroids more severe in black women
A study in the American Journal of obstetrics has shown that there are marked differences in the way uterine
fibroids present in black women and white women.
In black women:
- fibroids tended to be discovered at an earlier age
- they were more likely to have severe disease
- they had more severe menstrual pain and
- they had fewer days between periods
compared to white women.
The participants in the study were women who had at least one sister who had been diagnosed with uterine fibroids. This suggests that race plays and important part in the age at diagnosis and the severity of symptoms arising from uterine fibroids. Researchers are trying to find the genes that may be involved and associated with an increased risk if developing uterine fibroids.