Fibroid tumors are almost always benign, but they grow in or from the uterus, which means they have the potential to cause problems. Fibroids are quite common, and research shows that as many as 80% of all women will have a fibroid tumor in their lifetime. Most of these benign tumors grow, shrink, or disappear on their own, and they typically do not require any action whatsoever.
Sometimes, however, they disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle, inhibit fertility, or cause considerable discomfort. When this is the case, medication or surgical removal are the best courses of treatment.
Please Note: If you are planning on getting pregnant in the future and your OB/GYN recommends surgical treatment, take pause. It is essential that an experienced surgeon do the work in order to optimize your chances of future fertility. You want a surgeon who is adept at removing fibroids without causing further damage or scarring that could impact fertility chances down the road.
Most Common Symptoms of Fibroid Tumors
Whether or not you experience symptoms depends on three factors:
- Where the tumor is located
- The size of the tumor
- How many tumors are present
Some women are unaware that they have a fibroid until we find them during a pelvic exam or via ultrasound. Others experience significant discomfort because a single small tumor is growing in a place that makes it immediately painful or uncomfortable.
Common symptoms include:
- Heavy bleeding during your period
- Bleeding between periods
- Menstrual or interim bleeding that includes clots
- More intense period cramps
- Painful intercourse
- Increased urge to urinate due to the added bladder pressure
- Periods that last longer than normal
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in your lower abdomen
- An enlarged abdomen (you may even look like you’re a little pregnant, even though you haven’t gained extra fat)
Schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN if any of these symptoms resonate with you to have them evaluated. None of them are necessarily normal, so they are worth investigating in case something else (like endometriosis) may be the culprit.
Risk Factors for Developing Fibroids
In addition to knowing the signs and symptoms of fibroids, it is helpful to know the risk factors.
- Genetics. If your mother or sisters have fibroids you are more likely to develop them as well.
- Pregnancy. If you have larger fibroids, they are more likely to grow during the first trimester as they can be fed by the pregnancy hormone cycle.
- Age (30+). Women who are 30-years old or older are more prone to getting fibroids. They are typically the most active in women in their 30s and 40s. Once you reach menopause, any existing fibroids are more likely to shrink.
- African American. Black women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
- You are overweight. Being overweight affects hormone balance, and that means overweight and obese women are at higher risk.
- Eating red meat. Women who eat more beef and pork (particularly ham) are more likely to develop fibroids, although eating lots of vegetables and leafy greens counteracts that risk.
As mentioned at the beginning, the large majority of fibroids never require any treatment at all. They grow and shrink, appear and disappear, sometimes without anyone being the wiser.
If they do cause symptoms or their presence threatens fertility, your doctor may recommend treatment.
If you have a non-threatening fibroid that occasionally causes discomfort, taking OTC anti-inflammatory/pain relievers may be all you need.
Birth control or other prescription meds
Sometimes a low-dose birth control is enough to regulate hormone production and levels, which keeps fibroids from growing uncomfortably large. IUDs can also help to control fibroid-related hormone production and bleeding.
If your fibroids are more severe or higher in number, and they don’t respond to birth control, your doctor may prescribe stronger hormone medications.
If your tumors require surgery, your doctor will discuss which method is the best one for your situation. If you are younger and still plan to get pregnant in the future, the physician will recommend surgeries that remove or shrink the tumor without harming the uterus. Depending on your age, severity of the tumor(s), and your fertility plans, the doctor may recommend a hysterectomy or endometrial ablation (to remove the endometrial lining, which minimizes or eliminates tumor-related bleeding. Both of these surgeries eliminate your ability to have a baby.
Do you suspect you have fibroids? Are you looking for a second- or third-opinion about your existing fibroid tumors? Schedule an appointment with the experienced gynecological surgery team at OB/GYN Associates of Spokane.