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Understanding Fibroids: Everything You Need to Know

Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. While the exact cause remains unknown, their growth has been linked to the hormone estrogen. Recognizing the signs and understanding the causes can lead to early detection, which is crucial for effective management and treatment.


What are Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids, also known simply as fibroids, are benign tumors that originate from the smooth muscle layer and the accompanying connective tissue of the uterus. There are three primary types:

1. Intramural fibroids: These are the most common type and grow within the muscular wall of the uterus.
2. Subserosal fibroids: These fibroids project outside the uterus and can sometimes press on the bladder, causing urinary symptoms.
3. Submucosal fibroids: Less common than the other types, these grow just beneath the inner lining of the uterus and can lead to heavy menstrual bleeding and fertility problems.

It's worth noting that many women have uterine fibroids at some point in their lives, but they may not always be aware of them, especially if they don't cause symptoms.


Download our easy to understand guide to fibroids


Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of fibroids are still under research, but several factors may influence their formation:

Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that stimulate the development of the uterine lining during each menstrual cycle, appear to promote the growth of fibroids.
Genetic factors: If your mother or sister had fibroids, you're at an increased risk of developing them yourself.
Other factors: Age, ethnicity (African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids), a diet high in red meat, obesity, and early onset of menstruation are other factors that can increase the risk.


Common Symptoms of Fibroids

Many women with fibroids don't experience any symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they can vary based on the size, location, and number of fibroids. Common symptoms include:


Menstrual Irregularities

  • Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: One of the most common symptoms, this can lead to prolonged menstrual cycles, sometimes lasting longer than a week.
  • Clotting: Some women may notice large blood clots during their period.
  • Irregular Periods: The presence of fibroids can sometimes cause irregular menstrual cycles.

Pelvic Discomfort and Pain

  • Pelvic Pressure: This can feel like a constant heaviness or fullness in the lower abdomen.
  • Pelvic Pain: A sharp or dull pain that can be intermittent or constant. It may worsen during menstruation.
  • Pain During Intercourse: Some women with fibroids may experience discomfort or pain during sexual activity.

Urinary Symptoms

  • Frequent Urination: Large fibroids can press against the bladder, causing a frequent need to urinate.
  • Difficulty Emptying the Bladder: Fibroids can block the flow of urine, making it difficult to empty the bladder completely.
  • Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections: Due to incomplete emptying of the bladder.

Bowel Symptoms

  • Constipation: If fibroids press against the rectum, they can hinder regular bowel movements, leading to constipation.
  • Bloating: Some women may feel bloated or experience a sensation of fullness in the abdomen.

    Reproductive Symptoms

  • Fertility Issues: Fibroids can interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg or block the fallopian tubes, affecting fertility.
  • Miscarriages: In some cases, fibroids can be a contributing factor to recurrent miscarriages.
  • Pregnancy Complications: Fibroids can lead to complications such as preterm birth or the need for a cesarean section.

    Other Symptoms

  • Backache: Especially if fibroids press against muscles and nerves of the lower back.
  • Leg Pain: Larger fibroids can press on pelvic nerves, leading to pain that radiates down the leg.

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Diagnostic Methods

If you suspect you have fibroids or if you're experiencing any related symptoms, several diagnostic methods can help confirm their presence:

  • Physical examination: This often involves the doctor checking the size of your uterus, which can sometimes feel enlarged if you have fibroids.
  • Imaging tests: These can include:
    • Ultrasound: A device that uses sound waves to produce images of the uterus, helping identify fibroids.
    • MRI: Provides a more detailed image of the uterus and can help determine the size and location of fibroids.
    • Hysterosonography, Hysterosalpingography, and Hysteroscopy: These are specialized tests that involve visualizing the inside of the uterus to check for fibroids.
  • Lab tests: A complete blood count can be done to check for anemia, which can result from heavy menstrual bleeding caused by fibroids.


The Importance of Early Detection

Detecting fibroids early can prevent complications such as severe anemia from heavy menstrual bleeding, intense pelvic pain, and reproductive challenges. Early detection also opens up a wider range of treatment options, from medications to manage symptoms to surgical interventions for larger fibroids. Moreover, understanding and addressing fibroids early can significantly improve a woman's quality of life.

Uterine fibroids, while common, can have a profound impact on a woman's health and quality of life. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking timely diagnosis, women can take proactive steps towards effective management and treatment.
Book a consultation with Dr Quigley

Shaun Quigley

Shaun Quigley

Dr Shaun Quigley operates Northern Beaches Interventional Radiology, and specialises in minimally invasive treatment options for a range of conditions, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), fibroids, adenomyosis and varicocele.

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