Uterine Fibroids, Symptoms, Causes & its Types
- Published on July 27, 2022
A fibroid is a growth or tumour that is not cancerous and does not come with an increased risk of cancer. Uterine fibroids are small growths that develop in the uterus. It is also called a leiomyoma.
Approximately 20% to 50% of women of reproductive age have fibroids, and it is estimated that up to 77% of women who have children will develop fibroids at some point.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
A fibroid is a growth that is made up of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. A uterine fibroid is a growth that develops in the uterus. Your uterus is a small organ in your pelvis, in the shape of an upside-down pear. It is where your womb is because it is where the foetus grows and develops during pregnancy. The fibroid is usually detected in the wall of the uterus.
Fibroids are often discovered during a pelvic exam or imaging scan, and depending on its nature, it may require medications or surgery to remove it. Uterine fibroids go through different growth patterns. Some may stay the same while others grow at different paces. In most cases fibroids reduce in size after pregnancy.
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
While fibroids may exist without any symptoms, these are some fibroids symptoms that you should look out for:
- Heavy or painful bleeding during menstruation
- Bleeding between periods
- Heaviness or bloating in the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain experienced during sex
- Lower back pain
- Continuously thick vaginal discharge
- Difficulty in passing urine
- Abdominal swelling, causing the abdomen to appear pregnant
- Periods lasting more than a week
- Pressure or pain in the pelvic region
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids develop in women during their reproductive years. It is not certain what causes fibroids in the uterus. However, some of the possible causes are:
- Abnormal stem cell growth – a single stem cell in the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus multiplies to form a mass of cells or tissue that is clumped together
- Hormonal effects – during a woman’s menstrual cycle, the uterus lining is thickened in preparation for pregnancy, and estrogen and progesterone are two hormones that promote this development
- Growth-inducing substances – substances that help grow tissues (growth factors) may contribute to the growth of fibroids
What Are the Types of Fibroids?
There are 4 main types of fibroids. These are:
An intramural fibroid is the most common type of fibroid and forms in the muscular tissue that makes up the wall of the uterus.
This type of fibroid grows on the outer membrane of your uterus. Because it forms on the outer walls of the uterus, the smaller ones may not cause serious symptoms.
When a subserosal fibroid forms a stem, a tumour may grow upon this stem. The tumour that forms is called a pedunculated fibroid.
Submucosal fibroids form in the middle layer of muscle in the uterus, which is called the myometrium. They are a less common variety of fibroid. Submucosal fibroids grow inside the uterus and into the uterine cavity.
When to See a Doctor?
You may not know if you have a uterine fibroid because they don’t always show symptoms. Here are some symptoms of fibroids that you should watch out for:
- Persistent pelvic pain
- Extended periods, continuously heavy or painful periods
- Bleeding continuing between periods repeatedly
- Persistent trouble with passing urine
- Low red blood cell count for no perceivable reason
Signs that you need to see a doctor immediately are:
- Excessive bleeding
- Sudden and sharp pelvic pain
If you notice any of these symptoms, consult a specialist so that you can get the treatment you need immediately.
Risk Factors for Developing Fibroids
Certain risk factors can contribute to your chances of developing fibroids. These include:
- Obesity and high body weight
- Genetic background
- Family history of fibroids
- Age – women of reproductive age are most likely to be affected by fibroids
Although uterine fibroids are usually not risky, they can cause pain, discomfort and may lead to complications in certain cases.
Fibroids can lead to certain complications. These include:
- Complications during pregnancy – these could be placental abruption, interrupting the growth of the foetus, and interfering with smooth delivery
- Pain during intercourse – fibroids may lead to pain in the lower abdomen during intercourse
- Reduced red blood cells (anaemia) – this is usually due to blood loss
- Severe blood loss – this happens in rare cases and may require a transfusion
- Infertility – in rare cases, fibroids can affect a woman’s fertility
Prevention of Fibroids
The ways to prevent fibroid tumours are not certain. A healthy and balanced diet, regular exercise, and weight maintenance can reduce your risk of developing fibroids.
Getting regular pelvic exams also helps to lower your risk.
Uterine fibroids are not always a cause for concern. In case there are no severe symptoms, you can undergo regular monitoring by a gynaecologist to keep a check on the fibroid. If you experience severe or persistent symptoms that cause discomfort, see a gynaecologist or expert OBGYN as soon as possible.
For an accurate diagnosis, regular monitoring and the best treatment for uterine fibroids, visit CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr. Shobhna.
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1. What happens when fibroids go untreated?
In many cases of uterine fibroids, women experience no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Fibroids are not cancerous, and it is only in rare cases that they interfere with pregnancy. In such cases, not treating a fibroid may not be an issue as it can be lived with. It is also likely that it will reduce in size after menopause as the production of reproductive hormones falls. You can also develop a plan with your doctor to monitor the fibroids.
Medications for fibroids are usually for hormonal control and seek to regulate the menstrual cycle to deal with symptoms like heavy bleeding. They can help reduce the size of the growth but will not remove it.
2. Do uterus fibroids need to be removed?
Uterus fibroids don’t necessarily need to be removed. Especially for smaller growths, if they are not causing any symptoms, you can follow a watchful waiting approach. Your doctor may also suggest this approach if the symptoms are tolerable.
In this approach, the doctor monitors your symptoms and keeps a watch on the growth to keep an eye on the fibroid.
3. When should you worry about fibroids?
Fibroids can be a cause of concern when they cause serious symptoms like consistently extended periods, severe blood loss, and sharp pain in the abdomen or pelvic area.
4. At what size should fibroids be removed?
The size and exact location of a fibroid in the uterus will be considered when determining if it needs to be removed. The larger the size of the fibroid, the more likely that it will need to be removed.
5. Can fibroids give you a big belly?
Fibroids can cause abdominal swelling and make your stomach appear bigger or bloated.
Dr Shreya Gupta
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