According to the Office on Women’s Health, around 20 to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50 while they are most common for women ages 30-40. They are also known to be more common in black women than in white women. Fibroids can be also be genetic - the Office on Women’s Health says that if someone’s mother had fibroids, their risk is three times higher than the average while those who are overweight are also at a higher risk, two to three times higher than the average. Beyond this, one’s eating habits can increase their risk for fibroids - specifically ham and red beef have been linked to this.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids are growths, or non-cancerous tumors, which can grow in the uterus during one’s childbearing years. They are usually benign and often not noticeable because they can be small while some people with them do not have any symptoms at all. Though they can cause issues at times, depending upon their size, location and number. It can be challenging to predict their growth.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of fibroids can include heavy menstrual bleeding during one’s period and at other intervals, extended periods or more frequent periods, abnormal cramps or pelvic pain. Those with fibroids can feel pain in the abdomen or lower back, which is either a dull, heavy ache or a sharper pain, while they can also experience more frequent urination or difficulty urinating, and constipation. Fibroids can also cause infertility and miscarriage.Though most fibroids do not have any symptoms, it’s important to get them routinely checked out to make sure they’re not impacting one’s menstruation, fertility or other organs. Typically when fibroids are thought to cause infertility, once they are treated, most women are able to get pregnant. If you are pregnant and have fibroids, they should not cause you or your baby problems.
How can fibroids be diagnosed and treated?
- Detecting fibroids: The first signs of a fibroid can sometimes be detected during a routine pelvic exam while other tests can be done to gain further information about the growths and track their growth. This includes ultrasounds, hysteroscopy, hysterosalpingography, laparoscopy, MRI or CT scans.
- Surgery: occasionally, fibroids must be removed through surgical procedures such as uterine artery embolization, myolysis, laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy, hysteroscopic myomectomy, endometrial ablation or hysterectomy. However, most of the time, doctors focus on watching the growth for a period of time to make sure it’s not growing larger.
- Medications: some medications can also be used to address specific hormones that better regulate your menstrual cycle and appease heavy bleeding or exaggerated pelvic pressure. Though they can’t get rid of fibroids completely, these drugs can help shrink their size. Some of these drugs include Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists, Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD), Tranexamic acid (Lysteda).
Though fibroids are incredibly common there is a lack of awareness and education about them, which can make sufferers feel isolated or left in the dark. The important thing to keep in mind is that although fibroids are usually not a serious issue, they are still a condition that requires medical attention. If you are concerned you might have a fibroid, it is worth speaking with your doctor about how you are feeling so you can get appropriate care.
Sara Radin is a writer and community organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.