What is a uterine fibroid?
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. Also called leiomyomas (lie-o-my-O-muhs) or myomas, uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.
Uterine fibroids develop from the smooth muscular tissue of the uterus (myometrium). A single cell divides repeatedly, eventually creating a firm, rubbery mass distinct from nearby tissue. The growth patterns of uterine fibroids vary — they may grow slowly or rapidly, or they may remain the same size. Some fibroids go through growth spurts, and some may shrink on their own.
What are common symptoms?
As many as three out of four women have uterine fibroids sometime during their lives, but most are unaware of them because they often cause no symptoms. Women between their early 30’s and 40’s begin to be affected and needing medical assistance. Your doctor may discover fibroids incidentally during a pelvic exam or prenatal ultrasound.
Common symptoms if any are:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Prolonged menstrual periods — seven days or more of menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty emptying your bladder
- Backache or leg pains
The location, size, number of fibroids influences signs and symptoms. Below are common locations of fibroids and how the body is affected:
- Submucosa fibroids.Fibroids that grow into the inner cavity of the uterus (submucosa fibroids) are more likely to cause prolonged, heavy menstrual bleeding and are sometimes a problem for women attempting pregnancy.
- Subserosal fibroids.Fibroids that project to the outside of the uterus (subserosal fibroids) can sometimes press on your bladder, causing you to experience urinary symptoms. If fibroids bulge from the back of your uterus, they occasionally can press either on your rectum, causing a pressure sensation, or on your spinal nerves, causing backache.
- Intramural fibroids.Some fibroids grow within the muscular uterine wall (intramural fibroids). If large enough, they can distort the shape of the uterus and cause prolonged, heavy periods, as well as pain and pressure.
What is the recommendation to inform your doctor?
See your doctor if you have:
- Pelvic pain that doesn’t go away
- Overly heavy or painful periods
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Pain consistently with intercourse
- Enlarged uterus and abdomen
- Difficulty emptying your bladder
Seek prompt medical care if you have severe vaginal bleeding or sharp pelvic pain that comes on suddenly.
Who is at a high risk for getting the disease?
Doctors don’t know the cause of uterine fibroids, but research and clinical experience point to these factors:
- Genetic changes.Many fibroids contain changes in genes that differ from those in normal uterine muscle cells. There’s also some evidence that fibroids run in families and that identical twins are more likely to both have fibroids than no identical twins.
- Estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that stimulate development of the uterine lining during each menstrual cycle in preparation for pregnancy, appear to promote the growth of fibroids. Fibroids contain more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle cells do. Fibroids tend to shrink after menopause due to a decrease in hormone production.
- Other growth factors.Substances that help the body maintain tissues, such as insulin-like growth factor, may affect fibroid growth.
In addition, there are a few known risk factors for uterine fibroids, other than being a woman of reproductive age. Other factors that can have an impact on fibroid development include:
- If your mother or sister had fibroids, you’re at increased risk of developing them.
- Black women are more likely to have fibroids than women of other racial groups. In addition, black women have fibroids at younger ages, and they’re also likely to have more or larger fibroids.
- Other factors.Onset of menstruation at an early age, having a diet higher in red meat and lower in green vegetables and fruit, and drinking alcohol, including beer, appear to increase your risk of developing fibroids.
Why this disease is considered a “Silent Killer”
No one is sure what causes and how to pinpoint the symptoms of this disease. 25 percent of women who do have symptoms may have abnormal bleeding, pain during menstruation, and as the fibroid tumors grow larger, women will often experience a swollen abdomen. All of the factors listed above are a result of research and clinical experiences.
Most women like me are born into the devastation, discomfort and dismay of this life- affecting disease. Women grieve silently because it is embarrassing and a private conversation. The symptoms reflect that of other diseases, unless testing and follow-up is done effectively. However often times interventions are never effective or treatment occurs later during the disease process.
I suffered for over 20 years. I watched my mother and both of my sisters suffer. So, it was a part of the normal pattern in the household. Menstrual periods for one and two weeks, changing of maxi pads every 30-45 minutes, covering your seats with towels and bringing changes of clothes to work is NOT normal.
We are breaking the silence and bringing awareness to uterine fibroid disease. Please come to this FREE community event (HESS Club, 5430 Westheimer Rd., Houston, Texas 77056) on Saturday, July 23, 2016 at 12:00PM. Registration required at http://bit.ly/Fibroids/EPIC. This event will provide you with all there is to know, educating you on health insurance, treatment options, infertility concerns, adoption options, and primary care. YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!
By Tiffany Davis, RN-BSN, MSN, CNE | Co-Publisher