What are fibroids?
Fibroids are the most commonly seen tumors of the female reproductive system. Fibroids, also known as uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas, are composed of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus.
Fibroids are very common among women of reproductive or childbearing age. Among 20 to 50 percent women of childbearing age have fibroids, although not all of them are diagnosed.
99 percent of the cases are non-cancerous. The sizes of these tumors may vary from the size of a pea to the size of a small grapefruit or watermelon.
How do fibroids occur?
Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow on the uterus wall. Although no one knows for sure what causes fibroids, researchers are of the opinion that more than one factor could play a role. These factors could be:
- Hormonal (affected by estrogen and progesterone levels, since fibroids are known to be connected to hormones)
- Family history
Based on the location of a fibroid in the womb, there are different types of fibroids:
- Intramural: or uterine fibroids are embedded in the muscular wall of the womb and are the most common type of fibroids.
- Subserosal fibroids: which extend beyond the wall of the womb and grow within the surrounding outer uterine tissue layer. These can become quite large.
- Submucosal fibroids: which can push their way into the cavity of the womb and is usually found in the muscle beneath the inner lining of the wall.
- Cervical fibroids: which grow in the neck of the womb, known as the cervix.
Who is prone to fibroids?
Some women are prone to fibroids than others. They include:
- Women with a family history of fibroids
- Women who suffer from obesity
- Women of childbearing years since the ovaries naturally produce estrogen and studies show that fibroids are naturally dependant on estrogen. Therefore, women are at a risk of fibroids till they reach menopause.
- Research shows that women who eat a vegetarian diet are less likely to develop fibroids than women whose diets include meat.
What are the causes of fibroids?
The exact cause of fibroids is not known. Several factors can be responsible such as:
- Estrogen and progesterone which are the hormones produced by the ovaries during a woman’s childbearing years may stimulate the growth of fibroids.
- A person who has a family history of fibroids can be prone to it
- Since the production of estrogen and progesterone increases during pregnancy, a pregnant woman is more prone to fibroids
What are the symptoms of fibroids? How is fibroids diagnosed?
Symptoms of fibroids may include:
- heavy bleeding between or during periods
- pain in the pelvis and/or the lower back
- increased menstrual cramping
- increased urination
- swelling or enlargement of the abdomen
- pain during sexual intercourse
- menstruation that lasts longer than usual
- a feeling of pressure or fullness in your lower abdomen
If you see any symptoms of fibroids you need to consult an OB-GYN or obstetrician-gynecologist, who is a doctor who specializes in women's health. The doctor will perform a pelvic examination along with an abdominal examination. If it is a case of fibroids the physician will feel a firm, irregular pelvic mass.
The doctor will also ask about your complete medical history and suggest some diagnostic procedures such as:
- Transvaginal ultrasound (also called ultrasonography).
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Hysterosalpingography which is an X-ray examination of the uterus and fallopian tubes
- Hysteroscopy which is a visual examination of the canal of the cervix and the interior of the uterus
- Endometrial biopsy which is a procedure in which a sample of tissue is obtained through a tube which is inserted into the uterus.
- Blood test
What are the complications of fibroids?
The complications of fibroids include:
- abdominal pain during pregnancy
- risk of premature labour
- a cesarean section if the fibroid blocks the vagina
What is the treatment for fibroids?
Medical Treatment for Fibroids
Since most fibroids shrink by themselves as a woman approaches her menopause many doctors adopt a watch and wait policy. However, if the fibroids are too large and are causing severe symptoms, the doctor may prescribe treatments such as prescribing anti-hormonal agents, painkillers or surgical approaches such as myomectomy, hysterectomy, or uterine artery embolization.
Women with excess fat, especially abdominal fat, are more likely to overproduce estrogen. Therefore, exercising to reduce fat can help to reduce the risk of fibroids, though it does not guarantee that existing fibroids will reduce in size. Please consult your doctor if you are diagnosed with fibroids and want to schedule your own exercise regimen. Based on your medical history the doctor can recommend what forms of exercises will suit you the most.
Exercises such as swimming, walking, water aerobics are considered to be good to reduce unhealthy estrogen production. Yoga is also extremely beneficial.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Fibroid cases in India
One out of four women suffers from fibroids in India.
One in five women suffers from uterine fibroids - the growth of non-cancerous tumour in the womb.
Women of reproductive age suffer the most
20 to 50 percent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed.
Abdominal hysterectomy is an invasive surgical procedure in which the uterus is removed, sometimes with the cervix, ovaries, ligaments and the fallopian tubes through a horizontal incision made in the lower abdomen or the bikini line.
A female condom is a device used by women during sexual intercourse with a man as a shield against unwanted pregnancy. Know more about female condom, its uses and other useful facts, links and videos on Health-Wiki | Practo
Hysterectomy is an invasive surgical procedure, performed on women, to remove the entire uterus (womb), or parts of it.