If you're a woman reading this post, chances are you are somewhat familiar with the term "fibroids".
UCLAHealth defines uterine fibroids as, "tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus."
Although, not all uterine fibroids are of the same nature, their most important characteristic is that they're seldom malignant and most often benign. Cancerous fibroids, termed as leiomyosarcoma are extremely rare, (occurring less than 1 in 1000). Having fibroids does not increase your risk of getting cancerous fibroids or any other types of cancer.
It is estimated that nearly 70% to 80% of women develop uterine fibroids, mostly during their 40s and 50s, however not everyone has symptoms or discomfort. On the flip-side, women who do have symptoms find it very hard and painful to live with them, which is why it's imperative to understand how can one best manage the pain and discomfort that come with having them.
As with any medical condition, early detection of uterine fibroids is fundamental to better symptom management. If you have lately started noticing some unusual aspects about your period cycle or your overall reproductive health, make sure you're on the look out for the following signs or symptoms for uterine fibroids:
1. Excessively heavy flow during menstruation
One of the hallmarks of uterine fibroids is heavier than normal menstrual bleeding. The heavy flow is often coupled with more unusual amounts of clotting. This happens because fibroids are attached to your uterine lining and the resulting pressure on the wall of the uterus can cause the endometrial tissue to bleed more than it should. Typically during menstruation, the uterus follows two basic mechanisms to stop itself from bleeding out;
By forming blood clots, a protocol followed throughout your body whenever bleeding occurs. Plugs of blood are formed within blood vessels to stop the body from bleeding out excessively.
Since the uterus is a powerful muscle, it has the ability to contract, thereby inhibiting the blood vessels of the uterus from over-bleeding. However, the existence of fibroids can sometimes severely impact the muscular function of the uterus due to which it is not able to contract as effectively to stop the bleeding.
2. Painful and/or prolonged periods
No, excruciating pain and periods lasting 10 days or more are NOT normal despite what you might have overheard your friends talk about. Though mild cramping and going slightly over the average 2-8 days is fine but uterine fibroids can cause unbearable pain during menses as well as result in abnormally long and irregular periods.
3. Frequent Urination
Uterine fibroids can at times grow large in size and/or number causing the uterus to expand and compress the bladder. The resulting pressure on the bladder causes the need to urinate more frequently than one normally would.
4. Painful intercourse
The pressure on the uterus caused by fibroids can also significantly interfere with sexual intercourse. Also, fibroids that grow near the cervix area make penetration uncomfortable and painful for women.
5. Swelling or enlargement of the abdomen
If left untreated, uterine fibroids can dramatically grow in size causing weight gain, specifically in the lower abdominal area. The largest recorded fibroid weighed almost 140 lbs! Another cause of weight gain as a by-product of fibroids can be attributed to anemia. Anemia is common in women with fibroids as a result of excessive bleeding and prolonged periods.
6. Difficulty getting pregnant
There are several ways through which uterine fibroids can affect a woman's ability to get pregnant including:
Fallopian tubes getting blocked by fibroids.
Changes in the shape of the uterus: This hampers the number of sperm that can enter the uterus along with its mobility and that of the embryo.
Changes in size of the lining of the uterus.
Changes in blood flow to the uterus which might adversely affect the ability of the embryo to successfully implant or fully develop inside the uterus.
Depending upon your symptoms, as well as the size and number of your uterine fibroids, an appropriate treatment plan might include either observation (for those with mild to no symptoms), medications (such as Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists, Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD) and Tranexamic acid (Lysteda, Cyklokapron) among others), non-invasive procedures, minimally invasive procedures (including uterine artery embolization, radiofrequency ablation, laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy, hysteroscopic myomectomy and endometrial ablation) or conventional surgical procedures (such as abdominal myomectomy or a hysterectomy).