5 Facts About Uterine Fibroids That May Surprise You

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Uterine fibroids are the most common tumors in women. These noncancerous growths typically appear during the childbearing years . While fibroids are not linked to an increased risk of uterine cancer, they can lead to pain, suffering and complications.

"Fibroids are usually small and harmless," explains Lynn Rife, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health System. "Unfortunately, scientists don't have a clear picture of what causes fibroids, or how to prevent them."

5 Things You Should Know About Uterine Fibroids

Doctors think fibroid tumors develop from a single cell in the smooth muscle that lines the uterus. The cell divides over and over, eventually creating a rubbery mass called a fibroid tumor.

Fibroids come in a range of shapes and sizes. They can be so small that they're virtually undetectable or so large that they enlarge the uterus. You can have a single fibroid or a dozen. Here are five things you may not know about how and why fibroid tumors grow:

  1. Race is a factor. Black women have a higher risk of developing fibroids than white or Asian women. While scientists don't yet know the reason behind that disparity, they do have several theories ranging from vitamin D deficiency to ancestry.
  2. Hormones affect fibroid growth. Hormones can change fibroid growth. "In pregnancy, the growth of fibroids parallels surging hormone levels," Rife says. "So fibroid growth during pregnancy is remarkably common." Similarly, after menopause, when women have less circulating estrogen and progesterone, fibroids tend to shrink or even disappear.
  3. You may not have any symptoms. Fibroids are much more common than any cancerous tumor — according to the Office on Women's Health, up to 80% of women have fibroids before age 50. But many don't have any symptoms. In fact, for some women, the first sign of fibroids is an inability to get pregnant.
  4. Lifestyle factors may play a role. While there's some evidence to suggest that fibroids run in families, fibroids also seem to grow and shrink due to certain lifestyle factors. Women who eat more red meat and fewer fruits and vegetables tend to have an elevated risk, as do those who regularly drink alcohol. There's no surefire way to prevent fibroids, but eating a healthy, plant-based diet may help.
  5. Surgery isn't the only option. If your fibroids don't bother you, there's no reason to bother them. Instead, your doctor may choose to monitor them with periodic ultrasounds. Medication can help control bleeding and manage side effects like anemia. Option include everything from oral medication to injections. For women of childbearing age who want to have children, surgery may be the preferred option.

What Are Signs Of Uterine Fibroids?

So, how do you know if you have fibroids? Some women don't experience any symptoms at all. Those who do often complain of the following:

  • Heavy bleeding. Heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding is a huge tip-off. "It's the number one symptom that brings a woman to see a health care professional," Rife says.
  • Fertility problems. Problems with reproduction are common among women who have fibroids. For some women, that may be the first sign of fibroids. "When women who have fibroids do get pregnant, the tumors can grow and lead to pain and affect reproductive processes," Rife says.
  • Pain. Women who have fibroids often complain of pelvic pressure and pain, particularly during menses. "Fibroids can also cause pain during intercourse, and even in the urinary tract and bowel, depending where they are in size and position," Rife says.
  • Anemia. Women who have fibroids may lose a lot of blood during their menstrual periods. Over time, that blood loss can cause anemia. With anemia, women may experience fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.

The primary symptoms of troublesome fibroids are often prolonged menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain and pain during intercourse. But no matter which symptoms you're experiencing, don't suffer in silence.

"If you're noting changes menstruation, or in your sexual or overall health, seek help from your medical team," Rife says. "There's a lot of hope for women with fibroids. Appropriate medical management can help with comfort and decrease suffering."

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To find a doctor or certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Lynn Rife is a certified nurse midwife who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Ford Road.

Categories: FeelWell