Heavy menstrual bleeding. Painful periods. Urinary problems. If you have these symptoms, you could have fibroids.
What are fibroids? Uterine fibroids are a common health issue among women, yet many women may not be familiar with them. These noncancerous smooth muscle growths develop in or around the uterus and can affect your health in many ways.
In this article, we will answer the question, what are fibroids? In addition, we’ll also explore whom they affect and how they can impact your health. We’ll also review the most common treatment options for fibroids and provide information on how our healthcare team at Chapel Hill OBGYN can help.
What are Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) growths that develop in the uterus. They are also called leiomyomas or myomas.
Fibroids can grow on the inside, outside, or within the wall of the uterus. They can vary in size, ranging from as small as a seed to larger than a grapefruit. Fibroids can be single or multiple, and their size and location can vary.
The National Institute of Health estimates that as many as 80% of women will have developed uterine fibroids by the time they turn 50. However, out of that 80%, only around 25% to 30% will have symptoms to the point that they need treatment.
What Are Fibroids and Whom Do They Affect?
Women of reproductive age, particularly those in their 30s and 40s, are more likely to develop fibroids. African-American women are at a higher risk for fibroids and tend to develop them at an earlier age and with greater severity.
What Puts You at Greater Risk for Fibroids?
The exact cause of fibroids is not known, but certain factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing them. These include:
- Age: As we mentioned earlier, fibroids tend to develop in women of reproductive age, mainly in their 30s and 40s.
- Family history: If other women in your family have fibroids, then you’re more likely to develop them.
- Race: African-American women are at a higher risk for fibroids
- Obesity: Women who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk for fibroids.
- Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are vital to growing the uterine lining. If you have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, you may be at greater risk for fibroids.
How do Fibroids Affect Your Health?
Fibroids can affect your health in several ways They may cause:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding: Fibroids can cause heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, which can lead to anemia (a condition in which the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells).
- Painful periods: Fibroids can cause severe menstrual cramps.
- Pelvic pressure: Fibroids can cause a feeling of fullness or pressure in the pelvic area.
- Urinary problems: Large fibroids can press on the bladder, causing frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder.
- Painful sex. They can cause pressure, cramping, and stomach pain both during and after sex.
- Bowel problems: Large fibroids can also press on the rectum, causing constipation or difficulty passing stool.
- Infertility: In rare cases, fibroids can interfere with fertility by blocking the fallopian tubes or preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.
What Are the Most Effective Fibroid Treatments?
Treatment for fibroids depends on the size and location of the fibroids, as well as the severity of symptoms. Treatment options include:
- Watchful waiting: If fibroids are small and not causing any symptoms, we may recommend watchful waiting, which involves monitoring the fibroids over time.
- Medications: Hormonal medications, such as birth control pills, can help regulate menstrual bleeding and relieve cramps. Often, hormones such as the Gonadotropin-releasing hormone can be used to shrink fibroids.
- Uterine artery ablation: This procedure shrinks fibroids, and is performed by interventional radiologists. If you are a candidate for this procedure, we will be happy to refer you.
- Surgery: Surgery may be necessary if fibroids are large or causing severe symptoms.
- Alternative therapies: Therapies such as acupuncture, exercise, dietary changes, and herbal remedies can be effective at treating fibroids.
How Do Fibroids Affect Pregnancy?
Without thoroughly considering their impact on pregnancy, no article on “What are fibroids?” would be complete.
For most women, fibroids do not change in size or shape during pregnancy, and often, they do not affect the pregnancy.
However, fibroids may increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, such as preterm labor, breech presentation, or placental abruption. Treatment options for uterine fibroids during pregnancy are limited, as many medications and procedures carry potential risks to the developing fetus.
In most cases, we carefully monitor the fibroids throughout your pregnancy, and any symptoms are managed with pain relievers or bed rest. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary if the fibroids are causing significant pain or other complications. However, this decision is made on a case-by-case basis and requires careful consideration of the potential risks and benefits for both the mother and the fetus.
Concerned That You May Have Fibroids? Contact Us for an Appointment
Fibroids can cause pain, bleeding, and even difficulty with your bowels and urination. We want you to know that there are several effective treatments for these benign tumors. Discover how we have helped hundreds of women overcome fibroids as excerpt gynecologists in Chapel Hill and Durham.
See for yourself why we have been consistently ranked as the best gynecologists in Orange and Durham counties. Schedule an appointment today.