By Roselyn Dube
‘They mostly do not have significant symptoms, and if they do, it is usually at a critical stage’. That is how fibroids silently attack women of childbearing age without their knowledge. Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus and they are almost always not cancerous. Another medical term for them is leiomyoma. Fibroids can grow as a single tumor or there can be many of them in the uterus, and they can be as small as an apple seed or as big as a grapefruit. Fibroids mostly have signs or symptoms which are similar to pregnancy. Therefore it is important that as a woman you have regular pelvic check-ups with your gynecologist so as to be aware of such instances, especially if the fibroids that you have do not have significant symptoms.
Doctors usually group fibroids in three sets based on where they grow. These include sub-mucosal (those which grow into the uterine cavity), intramural (those which grow within the wall of the uterus), and sub-serosal (those which grow on the outside of the uterus). There are some fibroids called ‘pedunculated’ which grow on stalks that grow out from the surface of the uterus or into the cavity of the uterus and they look like mushrooms. Despite where they grow, fibroids are harmful to the uterus.
No one knows the cause for fibroids, but doctors and researchers think that it is genetic or that it could be affected by hormonal estrogen and progesterone levels. Other factors include race, environmental factors, contraceptive methods, ethnic origin, age, obesity, eating habits which consist of regularly having red meat and ham. Fibroids usually grow rapidly during pregnancy when hormone levels are high, and they shrink when anti-hormone medication is used. They also stop growing or shrink once a woman reaches menopause.
As a woman, you can get pregnant when you have fibroids but the challenge is carrying a child during the course of pregnancy and at the delivery stage. These challenges include that the baby is usually breech and is not positioned well for vaginal delivery hence the six-time greater risk of having a Cesarean section even if you had wanted or opted for natural delivery, preterm delivery and placenta abruption which involves the placenta breaking away from the wall of the uterus before delivery resulting in the fetus not getting enough oxygen. However, women should always be aware that sub-mucosal fibroids may cause infertility or pregnancy loss, hence the need for regular check-ups.
The treatment for fibroids depends on their size, their location, your age, and whether or not you have any symptoms. For mild pain, over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used; Lupron can be used to shrink fibroids even before surgery so that they can be easy to remove, and if one experiences heavy bleeding during their period they can take iron supplements. Other medication to control heavy bleeding include Depo-Provera injection, an IUD (intrauterine device) called Mirena and birth control tablets.
- Heavy menstrual bleeding which can cause anemia
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination and difficulty in urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
- Complications during pregnancy and labor
- Pain during sex
- Infertility, multiple miscarriages or early labor
- Pelvic pressure or pain
It is thus important that as a woman you have regular pelvic check-ups with your gynecologist or doctor even if you do not experience any of the symptoms mentioned above. If you appear pregnant and your belly seems to be growing yet you still have your menstrual periods, you should immediately visit your doctor as this might be a fibroid or many of them growing in your uterus without your awareness. One should note that a fibroid can be big and make your belly look as if you are pregnant yet you are not.
“Regular pelvic check-up does not kill; instead it saves the health of your uterus!”