Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow inside or on the muscular uterine walls and impact up to 80% of women in the United States. While some women with fibroids do not experience symptoms, others with large fibroids may struggle with heavy periods, severe cramps, and other issues.
When left untreated, fibroids can worsen, leading to more severe symptoms, infertility, and a painful condition known as fibroid degeneration.
Fibroid degeneration occurs when it becomes so large that it outgrows its blood supply.
What Happens if a Fibroid Degenerates?
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.
A degenerating fibroid can be extremely painful. It’s also possible for the fibroid to shrink and start growing again, leading to even more problems as the cycle of expansion and degeneration repeats.
If you’re experiencing pelvic pain, discomfort, or other symptoms of uterine fibroids, don’t assume it will go away on its own — schedule an appointment with a fibroid specialist near you.
At USA Fibroid Centers, our experienced physicians will determine what’s causing your symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to feel better.
Variations of Fibroid Degeneration
Pedunculated fibroids are more susceptible to degeneration or sloughing. 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.
Understanding Signs & Symptoms of Fibroid Degeneration
Fibroid degeneration is usually characterized by swelling and intense stabbing pain in the pelvic area or lower abdomen. These symptoms are caused by the release of chemicals that occurs when the fibroid cells die.
There also might be other signs of fibroid degeneration, such as a low-grade fever, or your existing fibroid symptoms might increase.
If you notice any of these signs and symptoms indicating fibroids are breaking down, you should consult with a fibroid specialist.
Here are the most common signs and symptoms of fibroid degeneration:
- 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.
What Causes Uterine Fibroid Degeneration?
Uterine fibroid degeneration occurs when a fibroid outgrows the blood vessels supplying oxygen-rich blood. These vessels are no longer able to do their job, starving the fibroid. As a result, fibroid cells start dying, and the tissue begins to break down.
When a fibroid degenerates, it shrinks back to a smaller size that the blood supply can support.
Risk Factors of Fibroid Degeneration
Why do some women with fibroids end up with fibroid degeneration, and others barely have any symptoms?
Fibroids need two things to grow: oxygen and hormones.
They require oxygenated blood to survive, and their growth is related to the amount of hormones that are present in your body. That’s why women aren’t as likely to have fibroids post-menopause — levels of the hormone estrogen decrease after menopause, which causes them to shrink on their own.
But why fibroids start developing in the first place isn’t clear. What doctors do know, however, is that there are risk factors that are associated with a higher likeliness of developing uterine fibroids and, as a result, raising your risk of fibroid degeneration.
The risk factors for fibroids are:
- Early-onset menstruation: If you start your period at a young age, you’re more at risk.
- A family history of fibroids: Fibroids can be hereditary, so if your mother, sister, or aunt had fibroids, you are more likely to develop them as well.
- African-American ancestry: Women of African-American descent are more likely to have fibroids.
- Obesity: Studies show there is a link between obesity and fibroid growth.
- Age: Fibroid degeneration can occur at any time during your child-bearing years, but it’s more common in your 30s and 40s.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Researchers have found that women with low vitamin D levels in their blood are more likely to develop fibroids. Lower vitamin D levels are also associated with larger fibroids, which are more likely to start degenerating.
Though fibroid degeneration occurs naturally, it can cause serious discomfort if left untreated. The good news is that when you recognize the symptoms, you can seek help from a fibroid specialist.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who is most likely to have fibroids?
Any woman of child-bearing age can have fibroids; however, some women are more at risk. Women who are at least 30, African-American, obese, or have low vitamin D levels are more likely to have fibroids.
It’s also important to keep in mind that fibroids thrive around estrogen. Anything that increases the amount of estrogen in your body can also help fibroids grow, leading to larger fibroids and subsequent degeneration.
All of the following can increase your estrogen levels:
- Oral contraceptives
- Food additives
- Parabens (found in personal care products)
What happens if fibroids go untreated?
When left alone, fibroids usually continue to grow. As they increase in size, they can push on other organs, causing pain, bleeding, and other symptoms. Once they’re large enough, they can start to degenerate and then develop again.
Should Degenerating Fibroids Be Removed?
Your doctor might recommend removing the fibroid to get rid of the pain. Because a degenerated fibroid can come back, you’ll need to treat the fibroid to prevent a recurrence.
How Do You Treat a Degenerated Fibroid?
At USA Fibroid Centers, our physicians can treat degenerating fibroids without surgery, allowing you to get relief without having to undergo a surgical procedure.
How Common Is Fibroid Degeneration?
Fibroids are very common. It’s estimated that half of women develop fibroids by age 50. Fibroid degeneration, however, is less common. It occurs when a fibroid grows aggressively enough to impact the vessels supplying it with blood, so, for the most part, only women with large fibroids are at risk.
Are Degenerative Fibroids Painful?
Degenerative fibroids can be painful, causing severe abdominal pain. You may experience acute pain on the side where the fibroid is located. The pain may subside in a few days. However, the pain may also return if the fibroid grows and degenerates again.
Can Degenerative Fibroids Be Cancerous?
Degenerative fibroids are benign or non-cancerous tumors. They are not associated with any increase in the risk of uterine cancer. However, these growths can be mistaken for cancer if they aren’t diagnosed correctly. It is important to visit a fibroid specialist for an accurate diagnosis.
Fibroid Degeneration and Pregnancy
Fibroid degeneration can occur during pregnancy, usually during the second or third trimester. This can be alarming for pregnant women, especially if abdominal pain is accompanied by bleeding.
Necrobiosis fibroid degeneration happens when a ruptured blood vessel causes the fibroid to die. This type of degeneration is most likely to occur during pregnancy, although it can occur in women who aren’t pregnant.
Because this degenerating fibroid causes vaginal bleeding and pain in the lower abdomen, it’s easy to mistake it for a miscarriage.
If you experience these symptoms during pregnancy, seek medical attention right away. A medical professional can determine what’s causing your symptoms and take immediate action to protect your and your baby’s health.
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. 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.
Explore Your Treatment Options at USA Fibroid Centers
In the short term, you may be able to manage fibroid degeneration symptoms at home. However, you should always have new symptoms evaluated and notify your fibroid specialist if your symptoms begin to worsen or impact your normal activities.
To break the cycle of fibroid degeneration and prevent additional suffering, we recommend seeking treatment for uterine fibroids. USA Fibroid Centers provides uterine fibroid embolization that can shrink fibroids and may prevent fibroid degeneration.
Schedule an appointment today online. You can also call us at 855.615.2555 to book an appointment near you.