What are fibroids?
As the most common tumor of the female reproductive tract, fibroids affect more people than you might expect. In fact, approximately 33 percent of women develop them during their childbearing years and 70-80% of women will have developed them by the age of 50. Because fibroids are noncancerous, many people experience a few problematic symptoms, and some may not know they have fibroids at all.
Fibroids are firm, dense tumors that are composed of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They are often classified by where they develop within the uterus. There are four kinds of fibroids:
- Intramural fibroids: These fibroids develop within the uterine wall and expand from there. This can lead to an expanded uterus if it grows from the wall into the uterine cavity. Intramural fibroids can cause heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month, bleeding between cycles, protruding abdomen, etc.
- Submucosal fibroids: They may form right under the uterine lining within the cavity. Some submucosal fibroids do not cause symptoms; however, they can cause issues with fertility.
- Subserosal fibroids: Develop on the outer uterine wall and expands outward putting pressure on surrounding organs. These fibroids typically do not cause heavy periods or bleeding between cycles. However, severe pelvic pain is often associated with subserosal fibroids.
- Pedunculated fibroids: These fibroids grow within the uterine cavity, but are connected by a stalk. One of the main symptoms that pedunculated fibroids may cause is severe cramps or pelvic pain.
An ultrasound or MRI can allow a fibroid specialist to see within the uterus and accurately diagnose your fibroids. Depending on their size and location, different treatments may be more successful at eliminating your symptoms.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids
Every person experiences fibroids differently. While some women may not experience any symptoms, others may struggle with chronic pain that negatively impacts their daily life. Fibroid symptoms may include:
- Heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month
- Fatigue caused by anemia
- Bleeding between menstrual cycles
- Pain during sex
- Protruding belly or abdominal area
- Severe pelvic pain or cramps
- Frequent urination or difficulty emptying your bladder
Can fibroids grow in the ovaries?
Depending on their size and location, some fibroids could potentially block the fallopian tubes making it difficult to conceive. However, fibroids do not grow within the ovaries. As mentioned above, fibroids grow within or outside the uterine cavity, but not inside the fallopian tubes or ovaries.
How fibroids are diagnosed
Many fibroids are diagnosed through a routine pelvic exam. If your doctor thinks you may have fibroids, they will typically refer you out to see a fibroid specialist. Fibroids are diagnosed by either using ultrasound or MRI technology. These minimally invasive machines give Interventional Radiologists, aka fibroid specialists, the information they need to make a diagnosis and locate the fibroids.
Treatment for fibroids
Choosing a fibroid treatment that is right for you can be a daunting journey. Your doctor will sit down with you to create a personalized strategy that fits your individual situation. For example, if your goals are to preserve your uterus or fertility, this can impact which treatment option you will want to pursue.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a nonsurgical, outpatient treatment used to eliminate fibroid symptoms. By using the body’s natural pathways, the Interventional Radiologist will thread a tiny catheter through your arteries straight to the fibroid(s). Once the catheter is in the artery supplying blood flow to the fibroid, embolic agents travel through the catheter blocking the artery and causing the fibroid to begin to shrink. When the fibroid shrinks, symptoms should begin to improve over the next few weeks.
UFE does not require you to stay overnight at a hospital, does not require stitches or general anesthesia, does not interfere with your hormones, is able to preserve your uterus and fertility, offers a shorter recovery period when compared to surgeries, as well as allow you to recover in the comfort of your own home.
What are ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled cavities within the ovary that may develop as part of the follicle which forms monthly with the developing egg. They are one of the most common uterine conditions. These cysts are typically noncancerous and do not always cause symptoms. Some ovarian symptoms may rupture, which can cause serious symptoms.
Symptoms of an ovarian cyst
Although many women will not experience symptoms, a larger ovarian cyst can cause:
- Pelvic pain or pressure – on the side where the cyst is located
- Fullness or heaviness within your abdominal area
- Bloating or a protruding belly
- Sharp, sudden abdominal pain may indicate a ruptured ovarian cyst
How do ovarian cysts form?
Your ovaries normally grow cysts called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and release an egg during ovulation; these are known as corpus luteum
- Corpus luteum cyst: When a follicle releases its egg, it begins producing estrogen and progesterone for conception, which is known as the
- corpus luteum. When fluid accumulates inside the follicle, causing the corpus luteum to grow into a cyst.
- Follicular cyst: A follicular cyst begins when the follicle doesn’t rupture or release the egg and continues to grow larger.
How ovarian cysts are diagnosed
Ovarian cysts are often diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam. Just like uterine fibroids, it’s important to track menstrual changes and symptoms like cramps and bloating to understand if these changes are normal or if they could be caused by something else. If these changes persist over a few menstrual cycles, you should schedule a visit to get a pelvic exam or ultrasound.
Sometimes, a corpus luteum cyst can be diagnosed through a pregnancy test. If the test comes up positive, the doctor will want to conduct an ultrasound to see this could be an actual pregnancy or a misreading.
If your ovarian cyst is found to be solid, your doctor will most likely want to conduct a blood test to understand if it is cancerous or not. Elevated CA 125 blood levels could indicate a cancerous cyst; however, it could be a noncancerous issue such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. This test measures the amount of a protein known as, cancer antigen 125, residing within your blood.
The Main Differences
It’s understandable that many uterine conditions and their symptoms get mixed up or confused. Tumors and cysts are different in the fact that tumors are firm and compact, whereas ovarian cysts are fluid-filled.
The only similarities between uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts is that they both can cause pelvic pain and a protruding abdominal area. If you notice pain on a specific side, this may be a good tip indicating that it could be ovarian cysts versus fibroids. If you have symptoms that affect urination or menstruation, this could indicate that the issue may be fibroids.
Your doctor or fibroid specialist will be able to accurately diagnose the issue and help get you on the right path to lasting relief.
Find a fibroid treatment center near you
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or just want to get checked, it’s important to consult a specialist regarding your symptoms or menstrual changes. It can be easy to ignore discomfort, especially in the early stages, but it’s vital to know that your period should not be difficult to manage or painful.
Explore our website to find a fibroid center near you and give us a call at 855-615-2555 to schedule your appointment with us today.