About 80 percent of women develop uterine fibroids, benign tumors that grow inside or on the muscular walls of the uterus, before age 50. Some people with fibroids may experience no severe symptoms, while others may struggle with intense pain or bleeding. While everyday symptoms of fibroids can include pelvic pressure or heavy periods, fibroids occasionally cause acute pelvic pain, resulting from a process known as fibroid degeneration. If you’re in pain, it’s important to see a doctor, especially if you think you may have fibroids.
What is a Degenerating Fibroid?
Fibroids are made up of living cells and require oxygen and other nutrients in the blood to live. They receive these nutrients through a uterine artery and attached blood vessels.
A fibroid starts to degenerate when it stops receiving enough nutrients from its blood supply. This can develop after a period of rapid growth, or due to a change in the uterus, that has blocked the fibroid’s blood supply. Without nutrients, the cells die off until the tumor is a more sustainable size. This cell death and the chemicals released cause pain during fibroid degeneration.
Fibroid Degeneration Symptoms
Though fibroid degeneration occurs naturally and rarely leads to health complications, it can cause discomfort and other concerns if not treated. The good news is that when you recognize the symptoms, you can seek help from a medical professional. If you think you have uterine fibroids, watch for the following fibroid degeneration symptoms.
- Acute pain: The most common symptom of a degenerating fibroid is acute pelvic pain focused on the site of the fibroid. You may experience it as a sharp pain in the abdomen accompanied by swelling. This symptom can last from a few days to a few weeks.
- Chronic pain: People with fibroids sometimes experience less severe, lasting pelvic pain due to fibroid degeneration. Though this symptom may seem less significant, don’t ignore it — treatment for fibroids could significantly improve your comfort and quality of life.
- Fever: When fibroid degeneration occurs during pregnancy, it’s often accompanied by a mild fever. If you have a fever and don’t know the cause, seek advice from a medical professional.
- Bleeding: Less commonly, a symptom of fibroid degeneration may cause severe bleeding. You should seek immediate care for abnormally heavy bleeding, even if it occurs during your period.
Fibroid Degeneration During Pregnancy
Fibroid degeneration, known as necrobiosis, can occur during pregnancy. It can be pretty frightening because it can lead to severe abdominal pain and abnormal bleeding. You may think you’re having a miscarriage because of the symptoms. If you experience these symptoms and have fibroids, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Variations of Fibroid Degeneration
Pedunculated fibroids are more susceptible to degeneration. This type of fibroid grows on a stalk that extends out from the uterus wall. The stalk can get twisted, which shuts off the blood supply to the fibroid. It can cause severe pain and last even longer than a regular degeneration. Surgery may be necessary to remove the fibroid.
Is Fibroid Degeneration a Good Thing?
Degeneration isn’t a good thing if you have fibroids. While it might sound like the fibroid will die and go away because of the lack of blood supply, only some of the cells die. Once the fibroid gets back to a sustainable size and blood flow is restored, it could grow again until it reaches the point of degeneration. This can become an endless cycle with debilitating pain.
Fibroid Degeneration Treatment
Symptoms of fibroid degeneration can be difficult to manage. Treatment can keep pain under control and help you live a more fulfilling life.
Pain from a degenerating fibroid can be managed temporarily by taking an NSAID medication, such as ibuprofen. However, you should notify your primary physician or fibroid specialist if your symptoms worsen or you notice significant changes.
In the long term, you should consider seeking treatment for uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroid embolization is a minimally invasive treatment used to treat fibroids. This non-surgical procedure can shrink current fibroids and prevent them from recurring, which could help keep fibroid degeneration from happening in the future.
It uses a form of real-time x-ray called fluoroscopy to guide the delivery of embolic agents to the uterus and fibroids. These agents block the arteries that provide blood to the fibroids and cause them to shrink.
A fibroid specialist will use ultrasound to locate the fibroids. They will insert a tiny catheter into the thigh or wrist during an outpatient procedure. The specialist will inject embolic materials into the artery to block it from feeding the fibroid. Without the nutrients provided by the artery, it can shrink and die, alleviating your symptoms.
At USA Fibroid Centers, our specialists want to help you treat your fibroids so you can feel better.