The Uterine fibroids are a condition is surprisingly common. Up to three-quarters of all women in the US alone have or will suffer from fibroids or fibroids during their childbearing years. Given its prevalence, every woman should know exactly what this condition is and how to detect it so that they can arrange treatment if the fibroid causes pain or other problems.

What are uterine fibroids

Uterine fibroids or fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop within the muscle (myometrium) of the uterus. They are also sometimes called leiomyomas or simply fibroids. They are generally benign and generally not associated with an increased risk of cancer , although women whose fibroids grow very rapidly often need to be monitored just in case.

Fibroids develop when a single cell in the uterus begins to grow out of control and form a solid mass .

Fibroids are the name of the location in which they are found.

  • Intramural fibroids are found in the muscle of the wall of the uterus.
  • Those located in the uterine cavity are known as submucosal myomas.
  • Fibroids or fibroids can also be found outside the uterus (subserous fibroids).

They can range from being too small to be detected by the human eye to being so large that they distort and stretch the uterus towards the rib cage. Some women have only one fibroid, others may have multiple fibroids at any one time.

7 warning signs of uterine fibroids

Most women with fibroids do not have any symptoms at all. Others, especially those with larger or numerous fibroids, may suffer from one or more of the following symptoms.

Symptoms will largely depend on the location of the fibroid and, in general, the larger the mass, the more extreme the symptom. If you notice any of these signs, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

1. Bladder problems

If fibroids are on the outer wall of the uterus near the bladder , they can press against it causing a loss of bladder volume and you will require more frequent trips to the bathroom.

In some women, the fibroid prevents them from urinating even when their bladder is full. This can be both uncomfortable and dangerous.

If you suddenly find yourself unable to sleep through the night or go to the bathroom more often than normal, or if you are unable to empty your bladder, either fully or partially, you should have a checkup.

2. Rectal pressure

In the same way that fibroids pressing against the bladder can cause problems, fibroids towards the back of the uterus can press on the rectum and make a patient feel full. They can also make it difficult to pass a move and can sometimes cause a hemorrhoid to develop. If you suffer from hemorrhoids, check out our article: 15 Good Foods to Relieve Hemorrhoids .

3. Pelvic pain or discomfort

It is not uncommon for fibroids, particularly large ones, to cause a general feeling of discomfort in the pelvic region. For some women this is uncomfortable enough when bending over or lying down. In others, the symptom manifests as a vague feeling of heaviness or a feeling of fullness.

More rarely, a woman will experience severe, sharp pain in the pelvic region. This often happens when the fibroid degenerates and can last from two weeks to a month. By-products of myoma can also infect the bloodstream and local tissues causing fever.

Pelvic pain is also one of the warning signs for ovarian cysts.

4. Back pain

The back pain is a common problem with a number of causes. Occasionally, a fibroid is found on the outer back wall of the uterus and will press against the nerves in the spine and back muscles and can trigger severe pain. Due to the location of the fibroid, this symptom can appear alongside rectal problems (see above).

5. Pain when having sex

Depending on the location and size of the fibroid, a woman may find that intimate relationships are uncomfortable or even painful. Pain may be more apparent in certain positions or at certain times of the month.

6. Heavy menstrual bleeding

Women with submucosal fibroids often report very heavy menstrual flow. This can be so profuse that it prevents them from leaving the house and will soak up your sanitary napkins – even for heavy flow – in a very short space of time. The bleeding is often accompanied by painful cramps.

Such bleeding is not normal and should always be investigated by a doctor. Women with heavy periods can develop anemia that can make them feel weak, tired, and have headaches. For other warning signs of anemia, read our article on Iron Deficiency Symptoms.

7. Long periods or spotting

Some women with fibroids may experience periods that last longer than seven days or have bleeding between periods. As with heavy bleeding, cramping and pain is common.

What Causes Uterine Fibroids

No one really knows what causes fibroids, but it usually occurs only in women of childbearing age. Genetic abnormalities, the body’s response to growth factors, and the response to injury are thought to all play a role in the development of fibroids.

Estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle and prepare the body for pregnancy, are believed to also play a role as fibroid cells are known to contain more receptors for these hormones than normal uterine cells.

Risk factors for fibroids

The main risk factor for fibroids seems to be being of childbearing age. Girls who have not yet had their first period and women who have gone through menopause usually do not have fibroids. These can grow during the first trimester of pregnancy, but are often reduced later or after birth.

There seems to be a genetic element. If a close relative has had fibroids, you are more likely to develop them. African American women are more likely than Caucasian women to develop fibroids and tend to develop them at a younger age – they often notice symptoms in their 20s compared to Caucasian sufferers whose symptoms most often come in their 30s and 40 years.

Women whose periods started when they were very young are at higher risk of developing fibroids later in life, as are women who eat a lot of red meat and few fruits and vegetables. The high blood pressure increases the risk of fibroids as well as drinking alcohol.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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