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Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in the womb, or uterus area. These growths are made up of muscle and fibrous tissues and can be different sizes.
Fibroids are also known as leiomyomas and uterine myomas.
In most cases, those who have fibroids do not know it, as they often do not show signs, or symptoms. However, in some cases, there are indicators that fibroids may be causing issues. In rare cases, this condition can be complicated and affect pregnancy and fertility.
It is not known why fibroids develop. However, there have been studies that show a link to the oestrogen hormone. Fibroids typically grow during reproductive years, as this is when the oestrogen hormone is at its highest level. When oestrogen levels drop, the chances of fibroids also shrink.
1 in 3 women is said to experience fibroids at some point in their life. They are common, and most are apparent between the ages of 30 and 50. Research has suggested that women of African-Caribbean descent develop fibroids more frequently.
There is also thought to be a link to the frequency of fibroids in someone who is obese, or overweight, due to the higher levels of oestrogen.
Women that have had children are a lower risk of developing fibroids, and studies suggest the more children you have, the lower the risk becomes.
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There are different types of fibroids, and they can grow anywhere in the womb. They also vary in size and can be small and large – in some cases, they have been the size of a melon.
Three primary types of fibroids develop, including:
This is the most common growth. It develops in the muscle wall of the womb and can vary in size.
This type of fibroid develops on the outside of the wall of the womb and into the pelvis area. These growths can become very large.
These are fibroids that grow in the muscle layer in the womb’s lining. They can also develop into the cavity of the uterus.
In some instances, a stalk of tissue also attaches the subserosal and submucosal growths. This is known as a pedunculated fibroid.
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In many cases, women do not experience any symptoms of fibroids. They often develop and then shrink back over time without any issues. However, some women do face symptoms, and these can also be mistaken for other reproductive health issues.
Fibroids are usually diagnosed at a gynaecology examination and may be spotted during a routine check-up.
It is said that around 1 in 3 women experience symptoms, so take a look at some of the common things to watch out for:
- Abdominal pain
- Lower back pain
- Need to urinate frequently
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods
- Discomfort, or pain, during sex.
As mentioned above, the symptoms may also be attributed to other health issues. If you are experiencing these, then speaking with a GP is advisable.
If your doctor suspects that you have fibroids, you will be referred to have a pelvic examination. This is usually an ultrasound scan, and this will help to see if any growths are present.
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In most cases, fibroids do not need treatment, as they don’t always show symptoms. For many women, they shrink over time and do not become an issue.
If you have been diagnosed with fibroids, a course of medication is typically prescribed to relieve the symptoms. There are some medicines that also help to shrink fibroids, and this may also be an option. If fibroids do not respond to this, then surgery, or less invasive treatments, will be considered to remove them.
Some examples of medication that is used to treat fibroids include:
Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) – this is a small device that is placed in the womb that slowly releases the hormone levonorgestrel. This is often used to help alleviate heavy periods.
Tranexamic acid – this medication works to stop the small blood vessels in the womb bleeding. It helps to reduce blood loss by up to 50%.
Anti-inflammatories – this medication works to reduce the body’s production of prostaglandin, which has been linked to heavy periods.
There are also lots of other medications that doctors may prescribe to aid the symptoms, or reduce the fibroids.
For many, fibroids are not an issue in everyday life. However, some cases can be problematic. In rare instances, they can affect fertility and pregnancy, and this often depends on the size and position of the growth.
People living with fibroids can get help from doctors and gynaecologists.
Complications During Pregnancy
Pregnant women that have fibroids may experience some complications during the term. There is a risk of premature labour, and fibroids may present development problems for the baby. If large growths are blocking the vagina, a C-section may also be required to deliver the baby.
Miscarriage can be a complication, but the NHS state this happens in rare cases. If you have concerns about fibroids and pregnancy, contacting your midwife, or GP, is advisable.
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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.
C-section – also known as caesarean section; a cut made in the abdomen to deliver a baby
Gynaecology – medicine and treatments specialising in women and girl’s reproductive health
Miscarriage – loss of foetus usually occurring before 20 weeks of pregnancy
Reproductive years – typically 18-50 years
Ultrasound scan – sometimes referred to as sonogram. This is a procedure that passes sound waves through the body to get an image of the inside of the area scanned