Uterine fibroids are inconspicuous in their presence but cause a lot of concern for menopausal women. Some women deal with painful symptoms caused by uterine fibroids while other women suffer little if any effects. In fact many women have fibroids without even knowing. Separating the myths from the facts is a good start to understanding if you have fibroids and if there is any cause for concern.
What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are small benign (defined as harmless to the body’s health) tumors that can grow on various parts of the uterus. It is important to stress that despite the word tumor, a fibroid is not cancerous; the likelihood of cancer is extremely rare. Most of the time, fibroids are so small in size that women are unaware they even have fibroids. Generally only about 30% of uterine fibroids grow large enough to cause discomfort.
Causes of uterine fibroids
Medical experts are not quite certain as to what causes fibroids and why some women are more prone to developing fibroids. Genetics play a key role; if other women in your family history have had fibroids you stand a greater chance of having fibroids yourself. For reasons that are not fully understood, women of African-American and African-Canadian descent are more likely to have fibroids. According to Women’s Health Matters, 50% of African-Canadian women over the age of 35 have fibroids.
Estrogen and fibroids
Estrogen tends to encourage the growth of fibroids and explains why most women have fibroids in their 30s and 40s. As the estrogen production diminishes, so too does the chance of uterine fibroids occurring in postmenopausal women. For some women, taking estrogen therapy can mean an increased risk of fibroids.
Types of uterine fibroids
Three types of fibroids have been identified based on where they show up on the uterus. Your doctor can perform a pelvic examination and an ultrasound to determine if you have fibroids and where they are located.
*Subserosal fibroids grow on the outermost layer of the uterus
*Intramural fibroids show up on the interior uterine wall
*Submucosal fibroids develop within the inner layer of muscle inside the uterus – closest to the endometrium – and tend to cause the most uncomfortable symptoms
Uterine fibroid symptoms
Most women will not experience any symptoms at all. If the fibroids to grow large enough to make their presence felt, the typical signs you will notice are heavy menstrual periods and pelvic pressure. Heavy periods tend to last longer than five days; in some cases you may menstruate for seven to ten days. Your period is considered abnormally heavy if you need to change tampons or pads frequently, usually anything less than four hour intervals, and tend to soak through the highest absorbency levels.
Note that bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods is not a sign associated with fibroids.
Pain associated with uterine fibroids is usually described as a feeling of heavy pressure on the pelvic area and may be accompanied by abdominal bloating. Large fibroids can also cause other issues including frequent urination, painful intercourse, constipation, and possible lower back pain.
Fibroids are usually harmless and nothing to worry about. But if you have any of the above symptoms and a family history of uterine fibroids, keep track of your menstrual cycle and any other details that you can discuss with your doctor. Fibroids are not dangerous but they can cause discomfort. If that discomfort is interfering with your life, there is help available so that you do not have to suffer any longer.
A great primer on uterine fibroids is at www.womenshealthmatters.ca
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You