What You Need to Know About Uterine Fibroids
If you’ve ever noticed that your periods and menstrual cramps seem more severe than those of other women, uterine fibroids may be to blame. Fibroid symptoms include heavy menstruation, pelvic pain or pressure, frequent urination, a diminished sex drive, and low energy levels. Women often develop fibroids during their reproductive years — with up to 80% affected by age 50. Despite the prevalence of this condition, most people don’t realize that they are at risk.
At USA Fibroid Centers, we aim to educate women about uterine fibroids, fibroid symptoms, and available fibroid treatment options. We encourage you to seek treatment if you suffer from painful or debilitating symptoms. Before making any treatment decisions, we recommend consulting with a fibroid specialist to learn about surgical and non-surgical options.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
Even though fibroid tumors are not cancerous, there are other important reasons to treat them: to resolve pain. Fibroid sufferers should know that fibroid tumor treatment options include surgical and non-surgical methods.
Can Fibroids be Cancerous?
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow within or on the uterus. While some patients develop a single fibroid, others experience multiple growths. They range in size from a tiny seed to as large as a melon — with the largest weighing over 20 pounds. Understandably, sufferers often ask, “are uterine fibroids dangerous?” and may even believe fibroid tumors are cancerous.
The good news is that these benign growths are not life-threatening by themselves. However, fibroids have the potential to harm surrounding organs, negatively impact fertility, and cause a variety of painful and unpleasant symptoms. Fibroid symptoms can affect your daily life and even become debilitating. When symptoms are severe, we generally recommend looking into treatment.
Uterine fibroids come in several different types, classified by their location within the uterus. The type, size, location, and a number of growths impact which symptoms you may be experiencing and their severity.
The different types of fibroids include:
- Intramural Fibroids: These grow within the muscular walls of the uterus. Symptoms tend to be mild and include heavy periods, irregular bleeding, and pelvic or lower back pain.
- Subserosal Fibroids: This type develops outside the uterus, bulging into the pelvic or abdominal cavity. Symptoms tend to involve the surrounding organs, such as the bladder and bowels.
- Submucosal Fibroids: These occur within the inner lining of the uterus known as the endometrium. It can cause very heavy menstrual bleeding, anemia, pelvic and back pain, and large menstrual clots.
- Pedunculated Fibroids: This type is attached to the uterine wall by a peduncle, or stalk. It can develop inside or outside the uterus. Symptoms are based on where they occur.
- Calcified Fibroids: These can form after a fibroid has outgrown its blood supply and gone through fibroid degeneration. Calcium deposits often develop on top of the remaining fibroid tissue. Depending on location, various symptoms can occur, including frequent urination, constipation, and abdominal pain or pressure.
Causes of Uterine Fibroids
A growing body of research about what causes fibroid tumors is helping us better understand this complex health issue. Doctors believe there are several contributing factors to the development of fibroids, listed below. There may also be lifestyle factors that play a role, including obesity and eating a poor diet. To learn more, please visit our Causes of Uterine Fibroids page.
Genetic sequencing has indicated genetic changes within fibroids that differ from normal uterine muscle cells. Scientists have found that more than 70% of fibroids possess a mutation of the single gene MED12. If you’re wondering, “are fibroids genetic?” evidence does indicate that if you have a close family member with fibroids, you’re more likely to develop them.
Can hormones affect fibroids? This seems likely. If you’re wondering what hormone feeds fibroids, there are several. Researchers know that hormones that stimulate the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle, such as estrogen and progesterone, play a major role in fibroid development. Research has shown fibroids possess more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle. Once hormone production declines — for example, after menopause or pregnancy — fibroids often shrink.
Although doctors have found a connection between hormones and fibroids, a direct cause-and-effect relationship remains unproven. New research is exploring the opposite question — can fibroids affect hormones? Again, more research is needed to understand the association between the two.
OTHER GROWTH FACTORS
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF), a protein made by the body that stimulates the growth of many different types of cells, is another possible cause of uterine fibroids. It may also have an impact on additional fibroid growth. For those interested in learning how to control fibroid growth, we recommend discussing fibroid treatment and possible lifestyle changes with a fibroid doctor.
The most effective methods to reduce uterine fibroid growth rates, or eliminate growth altogether, are fibroid surgery or a less-invasive Uterine Fibroid Embolization treatment.
EXTRACELLULAR MATRIX (ECM)
Research suggests that extracellular matrix function has a role in the growth of uterine fibroids. So what is Extracellular Matrix (ECM)? It is a material that causes cells to stick together, giving fibroids their fibrous consistency. Along with this trait, storing growth factors and causing cell changes are also attributed to the extracellular matrix. Uterine fibroids have been scientifically linked to increased production of ECM.
Women Who at Risk of Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are the most common type of tumor of the reproductive tract, most often affecting women during their childbearing years. However, you are considered at risk if you are female of any age. If you are of African-American descent, you may also be disproportionately affected.
Statistics show that African-American women have a three times higher risk than other racial groups. They may develop fibroids earlier but not be diagnosed until later. Family history is also a major risk factor –– if you have a female relative with fibroids, you are more likely to develop them.
Fibroids During Pregnancy
Fibroids can make it more challenging to get pregnant, but it’s possible to conceive even if you have these growths. However, fibroids can make pregnancy more difficult. They often grow because of the increase in hormone levels during pregnancy.
Many women suffer from more fibroids symptoms during pregnancy, such as cramps and bleeding. These symptoms may cause women to think they are having a miscarriage. Treatment for fibroids must wait until after you have the baby because it is too risky during pregnancy.
Another issue with fibroids and pregnancy is that they can cause complications. If they grow, they can take up the space needed for the baby and prevent fetal growth. They may cause you to need a cesarean delivery or even go into preterm delivery. If you are thinking about getting pregnant and having fibroids, it’s best to seek treatment before conception.
If you suspect you may have uterine fibroids, you may wonder what comes next. The first thing to do is get a proper medical diagnosis. This is extremely important because various other conditions share similar symptoms as fibroids. Some of these may be life-threatening.
While fibroids are frequently discovered during a routine pelvic exam, there are other occasions when patients ask for medical intervention due to debilitating symptoms. In particular, experiencing the process of fibroid degeneration often prompts sufferers to seek treatment.
To diagnose fibroid tumors — whether intramural fibroids, subserosal fibroids, calcified fibroids, or other types — doctors use various methods that include:
- Pelvic exam: Doctors are often able to feel an enlarged or misshapen uterus, either of which may indicate the presence of fibroids.
- Ultrasound: If fibroids are suspected, this is usually the first — and sometimes only — imaging test ordered.
- MRI: When more information is required, this detailed imaging exam allows your medical provider to see the size, number, and location of fibroids.
- Hysterosonography: This test — also called a saline infusion sonogram — can be used to expand the uterine cavity for a better look inside.
- Hysteroscopy: Less commonly, this surgical procedure is performed to see directly into the uterine cavity.
When the fibroid gets too large, it can outgrow its blood supply. When this happens, it causes what is known as degeneration. When the fibroid can’t get enough oxygen, the cells start to die, which causes degeneration.
When fibroids degenerate, they can cause acute or chronic pain, fever, and bleeding. You may notice a discharge that can be tinged with blood. While the cells are dying off, the fibroid may not completely die. Once it gets smaller, it can start regrowing again before degenerating again. This can become a never-ending cycle until you seek treatment.
Are Fibroids Painful?
While uterine fibroids are rarely considered dangerous, different types of fibroids can be more or less likely to cause painful or unpleasant symptoms. As previously discussed, intramural fibroids tend to cause mild symptoms, if any. On the other hand, fibroid degeneration can cause severe pain and bleeding for a period of days to weeks as cells die and the fibroid shrinks. Calcified fibroids develop during fibroid degeneration, resulting in new, ongoing, or increased symptoms. Subserosal fibroids often have less impact on uterine symptoms but tend to cause issues related to surrounding organs like the bladder.
A variety of fibroid treatment options are available. These may include surgical ones — such as hysterectomy or myomectomy — and non-surgical methods such as medications or an effective outpatient procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization.
Treatment for Uterine Fibroids
At USA Fibroid Centers, we recommend seeking uterine fibroid treatment if your symptoms impact your career, social relationships, sex life, self-esteem, and/or ability to perform normal daily activities.
Discovering the best treatment for fibroids — especially if you’d prefer to avoid the risks of major surgery and its lengthy recovery — may be surprisingly easy. Along with discussing symptoms and a diagnosis with your doctor, we recommend consulting a fibroid specialist to understand the full range of uterine fibroids treatment options.
Several surgical procedures are available to remove fibroids. They come with some risks that you should consider before deciding on the surgery.
- Hysterectomy: removal of the uterus and sometimes the ovaries, which prevents future fibroids but leaves the woman infertile
- Myomectomy: which is the removal of the fibroids through incisions made in the abdomen or through a scope inserted into the cervix
You also have the option of non-surgical procedures to treat fibroids. Each offers an alternative to surgery, but they aren’t all equal.
- Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is an outpatient procedure that uses a tiny catheter placed in the wrist or groin to insert embolic materials to block blood flow and cause the fibroid to shrink and die.
- Ablation uses heat to destroy the fibroids with incisions made in the abdomen for the device to be inserted to release heat in the uterus.
- Acessa procedure is a specific ablation type that uses heat from the Acessa device to burn the fibroid.
While all these procedures are non-surgical alternatives with a shorter recovery time, UFE has been tested the most to determine its success rate.
After UFE, you will be able to return to work and normal activities in a week or two. However, you should avoid heavy lifting, strenuous exercise and sexual intercourse. You may feel achy and tired for a few days.
You should wear sanitary pads for your first menstrual cycle after UFE. You may notice severe cramping, which indicates the fibroids are degenerating and even feel nauseous for a few days. You should take it easy and resume normal activities slowly as you feel up to it. It’s important to follow all the doctor’s guidelines for a fast recovery.
Benefits of Uterine Fibroid Embolization
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a minimally invasive procedure that provides many benefits over other treatment options. When you choose UFE to treat your fibroids, you can experience the following benefits:
- Outpatient treatment, allowing you to go home the same day
- Preserves fertility and the ability to carry a baby
- Less risk for infection and other complications
- General anesthesia isn’t required
- Minimal recovery time of one to two weeks
Contact USA Fibroid Centers Today!
Our primary goal is to get you back to living life to its fullest. To learn more about fibroid treatment without surgery, schedule a consultation with a fibroid expert at USA Fibroid Centers today. We offer telemedicine appointments or in-person visits at dozens of nationwide clinic locations for your convenience.
We are dedicated to providing effective solutions for fibroid symptoms at USA Fibroid Centers. Our treatment is minimally-invasive and covered by most insurance plans. If you think you may have uterine fibroids, contact us today at 855.615.2555 to discuss all your treatment options.