…..All That You Should Know About It
The mere mention of the word fibroids strikes fear and dread deep in the wombs of most women; for good reason. In the past, a diagnosis of fibroid tumors was considered a death knell for women who wanted to have children. The only treatment offered to those with severe fibroids; was a hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus–and the removal of any hope of future motherhood.
For Black women, fibroids pose a particular menace. They occur more often, develop sooner and grow larger in blacks. Estimates show that fibroids will cause symptoms in half of all Black women by age 50, compared to 30 percent of White women.
What Exactly Is A Fibroid?
To understand fibroid tumors, you first must understand the uterus, or womb. Composed of neat layers of muscle fibers, this small yet powerful organ, which is connected to a woman’s two ovaries by a pair of fallopian tubes, serves as an incubator for a fertilized egg while it matures into a fully-formed baby. Fibroids develop in the uterus when some of these muscle fibers start to grow out of control and form circular masses of tissue called myomas or fibroids. While they are present in most women, fibroids; are almost always benign (non-cancerous) tumors that are usually so small that they never cause any symptoms, Dr. Stringer says. In some women, however, these circular masses of muscle fibers keep growing larger and larger until they protrude from the uterus–and cause trouble.
What Are The Symptoms Of Fibroids?
The size of a fibroid has everything to do with the symptoms a woman experiences and the treatment options available to her. The general rule of thumb is that the smaller the fibroid, the easier it is to treat. To help a patient realize the extent of her fibroid problem, doctors often will compare tumors to round objects such as fruit, or to the size of a pregnant uterus (probably because the casual observer can easily mistake a large fibroid for a pregnancy). Frequent urination and severe menstrual cramping are also associated with fibroids. Other symptoms include painful vaginal intercourse, constipation, abdominal tenderness and bloating. However, Dr. Stringer says the most common symptom is excessive menstrual bleeding–menorrhagia–which can lead to anemia. Again, the majority of fibroids cause no symptoms and no health problems.
What Causes Fibroids and How Can They Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, so little is known about something that affects so many. Heredity appears to be one factor. If troublesome fibroids run in your family, your chances of having them are greater. Estrogen, one of two hormones produced by a woman’s ovaries, also might play a role in fibroid growth. Since estrogen controls the growth of the uterus, Dr. Stringer says it may influence the uterus to develop fibroids. He adds that if a woman with fibroids takes birth control pills that contain estrogen, it is proven that the fibroids will grow faster and larger. And obesity, which Stringer makes clear does not cause fibroids, can increase a woman’s chances of getting them. If you don’t have fibroids, he says that certain lifestyle factors, such as exercising and following a low-fat nutritional diet, may prevent or slow fibroid growth, but it will not shrink a pre-existing fibroid.
Do Fibroids Cause Sterility Or Miscarriages?
Rest assured that fibroids generally don’t cause infertility. But there are exceptions. Experts say that certain fibroids can obstruct the fallopian tubes, blocking the egg’s path to the uterus. Or they can interfere with the blood supply to the endometrium, the lining of the uterus that supplies nourishment to the growing egg. Fibroids also can crowd the baby in uterus, causing complications during pregnancy like premature labor or breech births.
What Should I Do If I Have Fibroids?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, the important thing is not to be afraid. The fear of cancer and other health problems has motivated many Black women with fibroids to take drastic measures, such as having hysterectomies without even seeking or demanding more "uterine-friendly" options. Experts say that fibroids are the leading reason women; throughout the world who haven’t gone through menopause undergo hysterectomy. And the fear of losing one’s reproductive ability has caused many others to forego any treatment. Ignoring this problem, however, will not make it go away.
It is estimated that 75 per cent of women with fibroids do not have symptoms; therefore many women don’t know they have fibroids. Whether or not you have symptoms depends on the size of the fibroids and where they are in your womb.
This also affects the types of symptoms you are likely to have. For example, a small fibroid in the wall of your womb probably won’t cause any problems, whereas a large fibroid growing outward from your womb might press against your bladder, causing bladder problems.
Heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
Heavy bleeding may involve flooding (a sudden gush of blood), long periods or passing large clots of blood. Heavy bleeding is not always due to fibroids, but when it is, it is usually associated with fibroids that grow into the womb (submucous). Although it is unclear exactly why fibroids cause bleeding, it may be that they stretch the lining of the womb, creating more lining to be shed during a period.
Heavy bleeding can be distressing and can make every day activities difficult. You will need to use extra sanitary protection and will probably need to change towels or tampons frequently. Some women with heavy bleeding feel they need to stay near a toilet during their periods. This can greatly restrict activity and may be frustrating or tiring.
Anaemia (iron deficiency)
Some women with fibroids and heavy bleeding develop anaemia as a result of blood loss. Anaemia can make you feel weak, dizzy and tired. If blood tests show that you have anaemia, ask your doctor about supplements or changes in your diet that might help. Foods such as liver, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit and even red wine can help boost your iron levels.
Pain and pressure
Some women with fibroids experience painful periods, dull aches in their thighs, back pain or constant pressure in the abdominal area that feels like bloating or fullness.
Pain during your period may be due to large clots of blood pushing through your cervix. Cramps could also be caused by the womb trying to force out a submucous fibroid that is growing on a stalk in the cavity of the womb.
Large fibroids can make the womb big and bulky, which can lead to lower back pain or pelvic discomfort. Some women with fibroids feel a dull ache in their thighs or develop varicose veins in their legs. This happens when fibroids become so large they press on nerves and blood vessels that extend to the legs.
Occasionally, fibroids can cause sudden severe pain in the pelvic area or lower back. This may be due to a fibroid on a stalk (pedunculated) that has become twisted. This kinks the blood vessels in the stalk and cuts off the blood supply to the fibroid. If you feel sudden severe pain and also have a fever or feel sick, you should see your doctor. The fibroid may need to be removed or your doctor may recommend bed rest and painkillers until the pain stops on its own.
Pain during sex
Fibroids that press on the cervix or hang through the cervix into the vagina can make penetrative sex painful and can also cause bleeding during sex.
Bladder and bowel symptoms
Large subserous fibroids (on the outer part of the womb) can press on your bladder or bowel, leading to one or more of the following symptoms:
o frequent need to urinate
o leaking or dribbling urine
o urgent need to urinate, often passing only a small amount
o difficulty or inability to pass urine – this is very serious and you should tell your doctor as you may need urgent care. A tube, called a catheter, will be put into your bladder to empty it
o cystitis caused by trapped urine that becomes infected
o haemorrhoids (piles)
Fibroids and pregnancy
Most fibroids do not get in the way of a pregnancy. They may cause discomfort, but they generally do not cause any other problems. Some fibroids in certain areas, however, can make conception difficult or lead to miscarriage. Fibroids may press against, or block the entrance to, the fallopian tubes, thus preventing the egg from reaching the uterus. Sub mucous fibroids that grow inwards into the womb are thought to cause recurrent miscarriage.
A fibroid can also interfere with labour and birth if it blocks the passage to the birth canal. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend a Caesarean section. Fibroids may increase your risk of bleeding heavily after birth, and can increase the time it takes for your womb to return to its normal size.
Just as fibroids can affect pregnancy, pregnancy can affect fibroids. It is thought that fibroids grow during pregnancy because of higher levels of oestrogen, but there is little evidence to support this. Another effect of pregnancy on fibroids is something called ‘red degeneration.’ This is when a fibroid’s blood supply is cut off, causing it to turn red and die. It can also happen outside of pregnancy but it usually occurs in the middle weeks of a pregnancy. Red degeneration can cause intense abdominal pains and contractions of the womb, which could lead to early labour or miscarriage. If you feel these symptoms, tell your doctor. The pain and contractions usually stop on their own but your doctor may give you drugs to ease the pain and stop the contractions more quickly.
Fibroids are never removed during a pregnancy because of the risk of haemorrhage (bleeding).