Fibroid….it’s a rather obnoxious sounding word, don’t you think? Just saying it aloud even has an ominous tone. Probably because it sounds similar to other foreboding conditions like fibromyalgia or cystic fibrosis. However, unlike those diseases, fibroids are actually treatable. Unfortunately, they can be a real pain in the….abdomen. Although, not everyone has symptoms. So, just what are these things called fibroids? Who gets them and in what ways are they treated?
First things first: fibroids are mostly benign tumors (non-cancerous) that grow in the wall of the uterus. So, from that we can determine that men have no risk of developing fibroids. In fact, neither does a woman who has had her uterus removed. We’ll narrow that list down even further as we go along. In the meantime, when we say “tumors,” that means you can have a single fibroid or several. And the size can range from an apple seed or a pea all the way up to a grapefruit. In rare cases, they can get even larger. If you’d like a brave a Google search to see the spectrum of sizes, go for it. Just remember that they are tumors, so expect something pretty odd-looking.
Symptoms of Fibroid Tumors
Recall that not everyone has symptoms. But if you do, the Office on Women’s Health provides a basic list of what to look for:
- Heavy bleeding (which can be heavy enough to cause anemia) or painful periods
- Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area (lower stomach area)
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
- Complications during pregnancy and labor, including a six-time greater risk of cesarean section
- Reproductive problems, such as infertility, which is very rare
If you are a woman, then you know the tricky part here is that most of these symptoms can be the result of a variety of other issues related to the female reproductive system. That’s why it’s such a good idea to have routine pelvic exams. This is especially true when you consider that some women have fibroids without a single symptom.
Just Who is at Risk?
Fibroids are one of those weird conditions for which researchers have yet to determine a cause. But one of the things they do know is that the growth of cells that lead to fibroid tumors is directly related to estrogen, especially high levels of it. The Obstetrics and Gynecology department at UCLA explains: “Women who are approaching menopause are at the greatest risk for fibroids because of their long exposure to high levels of estrogen. Women who are obese and of African-American heritage also seem to be at an increased risk, although the reasons for this are not clearly understood.”
Our list of those at risk just shrunk even further. Well, UCLA adds that the risk of developing fibroids is also cut in half if a woman has had two live-births when compared to women who have not had children. There are many questions surrounding these findings. Particularly, does having children somehow protect a woman from fibroids? Or is there something related to infertility that increases her odds?
The upside to all of this is that these tumors aren’t cancerous. Thus, many women who have little or no symptoms at all often just monitor them rather than seeking treatment or removal. In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that they rarely interfere with pregnancy and often shrink on their own after menopause. Most fibroid tumors grow pretty slowly anyway, while some don’t grow at all. And if that’s not enough good news, there are actually quite a few options for treating them. The first option is medication. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a growth that seems to feed off estrogen. Thus, medications used to treat fibroid tumors are going to target hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle in an attempt to shrink them. Talk to your doctor about various options and just know that messing with hormones can be some scary territory.
There are non-invasive procedures like ultrasound that can precisely destroy some of the fibroid tissue. Other options include minimally invasive procedures which are designed to target and destroy fibroids without major surgery. Of course, major surgery is also an option depending on the severity and debilitating nature of your fibroids. Hysterectomy is the last resort. In fact, the Mayo Clinic adds an alternative for women who are told hysterectomy is their only option. It’s called an abdominal myomectomy and is an open abdominal surgical procedure that leaves your uterus in tact in case you desire to have children later.
Do you have fibroids? What has been your experience? Have you experienced fibroids while simultaneously living with fibromyalgia or other conditions that increase pain sensitivity? Please share your story with us.