There is a lot of information and misinformation out there concerning fibroids, causes, prevention and treatment. Some of this information is true, some half-truths and the rest are false. It is crucial that women understand uterine fibroid because as many as 60-80 percent of us may develop fibroids by the time we reach age 50 or earlier.
The purpose of this article is, therefore, right information so you can have choices as well as make an informed decision concerning your health or a fibroid diagnosis. Also, I hope that this creates awareness, sensitizes the public, and points them in the right direction.
Mentioning fibroids leave a bad taste; someone usually has a sad or heartbreaking story to tell from either a near death experience or actual death either during surgery or a few days after. This experience shouldn’t be the case, but it happens because of lack of information. As a result, most women refuse medical interventions or surgery and chose alternatives.
Alternative therapies involve healthy eating, dietary supplements, moderate exercise, positive stress coping, and safe relaxation techniques. These are helpful for small fibroids and in women approaching menopause though this claim is unsubstantiated.
The problem with alternative treatment is that the results are very inconsistent, subjective and random. More often than not the cases that have shown the most dramatic improvements are in women who are almost menopausal or have reached menopause.
Around menopause, production of estrogens reduces causing the fibroids of these women to tend to shrink regardless of any natural therapies. No harm in trying, though, but apply wisdom.
1. What are fibroids?
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths of muscles and fibrous tissue that develop in or around the womb (uterus). Fibroids are medically known as uterine myomas or leiomyomas.
2. What causes fibroids?
No one knows for sure what causes fibroids to grow or what makes them shrink. A lot of factors could play a role in causing fibroids, and these could be hormonal, genetic or excess growth factors.
3. Who gets fibroids?
Fibroids seem to develop more frequently in women of African- American descent. Around 1 in 3 women develop them at some point in their life. It also appears women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. Unhealthy eating such as excessive consumption of beef and ham is associated with an increased risk of fibroids. Fibroids are commoner in women 30 to 50 years. At this time, oestrogen levels are at their highest. They tend to shrink after menopause when oestrogen levels are low.
Eating a lot of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids. Having children lowers your risks of developing fibroids, and the more children you have, the further the risk decreases.
4. What are the different types of fibroids?
Fibroids can develop and grow anywhere in the womb. They vary in size from a groundnut, to as large as a nine-month-old pregnancy.
The commonest types are:
• Intramural fibroids – this is the most frequent type of fibroid, it develops in the wall of the womb
• Subserosal fibroids – are found the wall of the womb, they could grow into the pelvis and can become enormous
• Submucosal fibroids – are located beneath the womb’s inner lining, and they grow into the cavity of the womb
Sometimes subserosal or submucosal fibroids may be attached to the womb with a narrow stalk of tissue. These are known as pedunculated fibroids. This stalk can twist, cause a decrease of blood to the fibroid, degenerate or cause severe pain.
5. How are fibroids diagnosed?
Fibroids are diagnosed by clinical or by gynecological examinations, ultrasound scan or MRI. Fibroids are extremely common, for some women it may be accidental findings during routine pelvic checks. More than 80 percent, will never have symptoms and therefore, will not require treatment.
6. What are the symptoms of fibroids?
Many women don’t have any symptoms, so they are unaware they have fibroids. Symptoms depend on size, type, location or number; and these include:
• Heavy bleeding, this can be substantial enough to cause anemia
• Very painful menstrual periods
• Bloated feeling or fullness in the lower abdomen
• Enlargement of the lower abdomen sometimes making you appear pregnant
• Tummy pain
• Lower back pain
• A frequent need to urinate and if you are not quick enough, you wet self before you reach the toilet – urinary incontinence
• Urinary tract infections due to pressure of the fibroid on the bladder causing incomplete emptying and accumulation urine in the bladder
• Constipation as well as feeling of incomplete emptying; you may have to evacuate your rectum manually using your finger
• Pain or discomfort during sex
• Rarely fibroids complications can affect pregnancy or cause infertility.
7. What happens to pregnant women who have fibroids?
Pregnant women who have fibroids may or may not have problems during pregnancy and delivery. The commonest problems seen in women with fibroids are:
• Caesarean section, this is probably due to the position of the fibroid – blocking the passage or baby is not positioned ”head down” for birth (breech baby)
• Labour fails to progress.
• Placenta could break away from the wall of the uterus before delivery. When this happens, the baby does not get enough oxygen.
• Preterm delivery.
8. Can fibroids turn into cancer?
Fibroids are almost always not cancerous. Neither does having fibroids increase a woman’s chances of getting other forms of cancer in the uterus.
9. What is fibroid degeneration?
A fibroid may degenerate following rapid growth. Fibroid degeneration happens during particularly stressful or emotionally demanding times, during pregnancy, or just before menopause. It occurs when a fibroid outgrows its blood supply. When this happens, the center is deprived of blood and oxygen; it may cause pain, the fibroid shrinks and may disappear.
10. What is the impact Uterine Fibroids on Conception and Pregnancy?
Uterine fibroids may cause the following problems of fertility, conception, and pregnancy:
• Obstruct or prevent implantation of the fertilized egg
• Block the Fallopian tubes, preventing transport of egg or sperm
• Menstrual cycles that occur without ovulation
• Abnormal uterine bleeding
• Prevent movement of sperm to ova
• Recurrent miscarriages or Premature rupture of the membranes
• A decrease in the baby’s growth
• Contributing to retained placenta after birth
• A postpartum haemorrhage
• An abnormal labour
Only a few women with uterine fibroids experience these troubles, a lot of them go on to have healthy pregnancies even with uterine fibroids present. For some women, the fibroids shrink as the baby grows. Because there are risks to fertility and possibly pregnancy, it is best to reduce fibroid growth, prevent the formation of new ones as well as maintain healthy lifestyle choices to continue to work to bring about the best possible uterine health.
11. Home treatment
There is no known treatment to prevent uterine fibroids. But getting regular exercise and eating healthy may help. Some home treatment can ease menstrual period pain and anemia.
a. Tips for alleviating menstrual pain include but not limited to:
• The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, helps relieve menstrual cramps and pain. Read our article on menstrual pain for more information
• You could apply heat to the lower abdomen by using a heating pad or hot water bottle or taking a warm bath. Heat improves blood flow and may improve pelvic pain
• Lie on your back and raise your knees with a pillow
• Lie on your side and pull your knees up to your chest, like a baby, this position will help relieve back pressure
• Use pads instead of tampons
• Exercise, this improves blood flow and may reduce pain
• Deep breathing exercises
b. Preventing anemia
The heavy menstrual blood flow may lead to anemia because your body cannot produce blood as fast as it is losing it. Increasing the amount of iron in your diet from vegetables may help prevent anemia as well as taking medicines to reduce the flow of blood during menstruation.
c. Lifestyle modifications
What is the role of nutrition in managing fibroids?
Even though just changing one’s diet is unlikely to shrink one’s fibroids, healthy dietary habits are still important. Most natural therapies work best if combined with a healthy lifestyle including dietary changes and wise use of nutritional supplements.
Unhealthy dietary habits can alter and slow down your body’s metabolization and elimination of oestrogens. Alcohol, in particular, slows down the metabolism of estrogens in the liver.
Whole grains help the body excrete oestrogens through the bowel, lower estrogen levels, vegetarian women who eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet have lower blood estrogen levels than omnivorous women with low fiber diets.
Learn positive stress handling skills; high-stress levels increase estrogen production in the body, and this feeds fibroids. Exercise helps stress coping too.
Role of exercise
Women who are physically active and are less prone to have uterine fibroids as compared to less active women. Exercise reduces the oestrogen level, and it stimulates the body to release its own pain-relieving, mood alleviating compounds, called endorphins or happy hormones.
Avoid jarring, high-impact exercises which can cause pain to existing fibroids, making it difficult for you to be physically active or exercise. Instead, choose low-impact cardiovascular exercises like walking, cycling swimming to burn calories and fat, as well as help to reduce unhealthy estrogen production. Exercise at least three to five times per day for at least 30 minutes to create a calorie deficit that helps you lose weight.
12. What options do you have for treatment?
It is important to note that treatment is not required for fibroids if they are not causing symptoms. But if a fibroid is affecting the quality of life of a woman in any way, she should seek medical attention.
There is the medical, hormonal and surgical treatment of fibroids. Therapy depends on the size, location and number of fibroids as well as your age. It also depends on if you want or do not want to have more children as well as your current state of health.
Complications usually arise either from refusing surgery or having surgery by the wrong person. Refusing surgery may lead to severe bleeding and blood loss, grossly enlarged fibroids compressing on other organs and prevention of conception or implantation of a fertilized egg.
Surgery on the other hand if performed by the wrong person may cause severe bleeding, perforation of the gut, serious post-operative infections, infertility and many other complications including death.
Surgery is the commonest treatment for fibroids; this involves removing small to average sized fibroid(s) from the womb. The procedure is called a myomectomy, unfortunately; the fibroids may recur after a myomectomy. Though not proven, living healthy may prevent recurrence by decreasing oestrogen production.
For large or problematic fibroids, the uterus may be removed in a procedure known as a hysterectomy.
There are some medications in the form of tablets and injections that may be used to decrease pain, reduce blood flow or shrink fibroids. It is worthy of note to remember that drugs alone are usually temporary measures as the fibroids recur once you stop the medication. These drugs have adverse side effects due to prolong use.
In some cases, drugs are used in combination with surgery, for instance, to shrink fibroid before removing it surgically to make the procedure less complicated.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths of muscles and fibrous tissue that develop in or around the womb. No one knows the cause of fibroids; fibroids are commoner in women of African-American origin and between ages 30 to 50 years.
Fibroids may or may not cause symptoms. Do nothing if they are causing no symptoms but if they are causing you pain, severe anemia, and discomfort, talk to a gynecologist for your best treatment option. Meanwhile, healthy living could help and thankfully, there are more and more medical and surgical options now available besides the traditional hysterectomy.
See our article on treatment of fibroids. To find out more information about fibroids, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you learnt something from this article. Please make your comments and your contributions below, thank you.
Wishing you good health and happiness,