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Everything you need to know about fibroids

Everything you need to know about fibroids

If you’ve ever been tested for fibroids, your doctor probably told you how common they are. According to the Office on Women’s Health, anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids by the time they’re 50 years old. But knowing they are common doesn’t answer all the questions you might have: what exactly are fibroids? Why do women get them? What symptoms should you expect to experience? And at what point do fibroids become an issue that requires medical treatment?

What is a fibroid?

Fibroids are the most common tumors of the female reproductive system. And although the term “tumor” might make you think of cancer, most fibroids (nearly 99 percent of them) are non-cancerous. Fibroids are composed of muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue in the uterus. Although most fibroids grow in the lining of the uterus, they can also grow elsewhere in the uterus: on the outer layer, in between the muscles, and in the wall of the cervix (the connection between the uterus and the vagina).The size of the tumor can range from a quarter of an inch, like the size of a pea, to several inches, like the size of a grapefruit, or even larger in the very extreme cases.

Some people can go their entire lives without knowing they have fibroids. For others, the symptoms can range from annoying to life-altering, and may include: 

  • heavy bleeding during their periods
  • bleeding between periods
  • pelvic pressure or fullness in their lower abdomen
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • lower back pain

Since fibroids often begin during childbearing years, some women discover these uterine growths when they’re trying to conceive. Fibroids can cause reproductive issues, including miscarriages, infertility, or early onset of labor. Women with fibroids may also find that they are more likely to be told they need a cesarean section.

Why do women get fibroids?

Although researchers haven’t reached any definitive conclusions about why women develop fibroids, there are some factors that seem to increase the likelihood of having them.

Age: How old you are is a big factor in your risk for fibroids. Women in their 30s and 40s are especially prone, while women in their 20s are at lower risk. Fibroids feed off of estrogen, so when estrogen levels go down during menopause, so do fibroids.

Family history: If your mother had fibroids, then you’re at a three times higher risk of developing them too. Ask her if she ever dealt with fibroids and if or when she began experiencing symptoms.

Ethnicity: African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids with more severe symptoms and the greater possibility of multiple growths. One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a possible link between fibroid incidence and exposure to chemicals in hair relaxing products.

Weight: Women considered overweight or obese according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Body Mass Index saw higher rates of fibroids. This might be in part because of increased estrogen in obese women.

Diet: Eating red meat and pork can also increase the risk of fibroids. Women who ate more vegetables had lower rates of developing the non-cancerous tumors. Sufficient vitamin D also seemed to lower the odds of women developing fibroids. An hour of sun a day could help keep these growths in check.

Life events: Researchers at Boston University, as a part of their Black Women’s Health Study, found a higher incidence of fibroids among women who had been physically or sexually abused during childhood. The researchers think the link might exist because of the impact of stress on sex steroid hormones or potential exposure to sexually transmitted infections

What can you do to treat fibroids?

If you aren’t experiencing any symptoms from your fibroids, then you may not need to do anything more than monitor their growth. Small fibroids that stay small and don’t cause pain are the best-case scenario. You and your doctor can determine a frequency for ultrasounds to keep you worry-free. There is no one solution to fibroids given the differences in size, location, and symptoms.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms or you’ve discovered your fibroid in the midst of trying to conceive, you may need a medical solution to solve the problem. There are two main options: hormonal therapy or surgical intervention.

Hormonal therapy is the least invasive way to treat the growths. Those options could include hormonal injections, birth control pills, or a hormonal IUD. All three change your hormone levels, regulating estrogen or releasing progesterone. If you want to conceive, though, this option isn’t for you.

For larger fibroids or multiple ones, a surgical procedure may be the right option. This can include a focused ultrasound ablation, where waves of heat destroy fibroids tissue; surgical ablation, surgery to target the uterine artery that provides blood to a fibroid; myomectomy, or removal of the fibroids; or finally a hysterectomy, the removal of your uterus and possibly other reproductive organs depending on the severity of the fibroid.

If you have discovered you have fibroids, don’t panic. Talk to your doctor about next steps to ensure your best health.

  • I actually had a large fibroid removed around 2014 which my doctor described as a horned birds nest and it was about the size of a grapefruit attached to a small plum. Once it was removed I was told there are smaller ones they left as well. My periods did get better for a few years but 6 years later they are about the same as before the removal. I was diagnosed with PCOS around the same time and I have tried every eastern and western treatment to no avail. Now as I’m turning forty next month I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of trying to conceive as it’s been such a struggle. I have a ton of risk factors for having fibroids but as an African American woman let me just say that many studies have suggested that the link between us and fibroids has more to do with higher levels of estrogen and not just certain hair chemicals. That felt very narrow minded.

  • Thank you for posting this article. I am a woman in her late thirties and I’ve been battling with multiple fibroids. In this battle I’ve learned so much about how to shrink them. Currently, the best course has been traditional eastern medicine. Specifically Acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments. My doctor Has successfully reduced the size of the growths in the 6 weeks that of treatment. These treatments coupled with an intense detoxing cleanse, followed by the fast mimicking diet, and finally a full lifestyle change has given me symptom relief and size reduction. Hopefully by the end of year I’ll be fibroid free.

    • As a women with 3 large fibroids that were removed in 2015, I can promise you that eastern medicine is going to do nothing to get rid of them. I had a myomectomy and it was the beat decision I have ever made. Less invasive sounds great but it doesn’t work.

  • I have endometriosis and I and I thought this article was great and very informative thank you

  • I don’t think that you went over what a woman should do if they trying to conceive. I have dealt with fibroids since I was a teen and I’m now 27 and want a baby. What should I do?

    • Acupuncture and Chinese medicine was a game changer for me! If you want to follow me on IG, I can also dm you all the info I’ve gathered as I’m dealing with this as well.

  • I thought this article was informative. A lot of women haven’t even heard of a fibroid. As the article mentioned, they can be caused from estrogen dominance. Most women in their 30’s don’t realize that environmental toxins can play a significant impact on estrogen. This includes the detergents we use to wash clothes, our make and lotions and I would assume the tampons we use as well. I have had small fibroids and one also one in the wall removed surgically after several failed pregnancies. Thank you for spreading awareness Lola.

  • I was hoping for breakthrough information from your article. I was diagnosed with fibroids around the age of 29 but most likely had them for several years prior. The doctors said my uterus was wallpapered with multiple fibroids of every size. And by the time I had my first surgery, my uterus was the size of a five month pregnancy. And I am one of the “lucky” ones that had every symptom you mention. Particularly, prolonged bleeding and blood clots that lead to anemia. Even after 2 UAE Uterine Artery Embolizations and a robotic myomectomy, my fibroids returned again and again. And they have returned again. On top of it, I also have Adenomyosis. My mother and my sister both had fibroids. I am reaching menopause (hopefully) as I am 48 now and hope these little f—Kers will disappear! Fibroids combined with Adenomyosis sucks!

    Thank you for bringing the subject back up, to help other people with uteruses! But I really do wish, when I opened an article about fibroids (I have read them all) that there would be new information about new treatments that do not require a woman to mess with her already fluctuating hormones and that don’t mutilate the uterus! I was left with severe scarring after my three surgeries (each about 2-3 years apart), that also left my Fallopian tubes blocked.
    I cannot wait for full menopause to never bleed again and hopefully shrink the growths I have currently. Thank you for letting vent! Having been through the ringer, I appreciate the space to tell my story and hope to help others as well.

    • Gypsy, I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced sure pain and trauma! That’s terrible!! No expert, but being in a 4 year battle with fibroids has taught me these key elements: eliminating all refined sugar & carbs from your life is the first step to helping your body as anything that causes severe spikes in your insulin will multiply fibroids or any other reproductive issues. Taking 1200mg of vitex and 300mg of D.I.M. daily helped ease my symptoms after just 8 days. At least 30 minutes of exercise and consuming a gallon of water a day also helped flush out toxins that cause internal chaos. Finally, acupuncture and Chinese herbs treatments by an expert really helps. Wishing you quick relief!

  • I had a robotic myomectomy to remove 8 fibroids and 2 polyps last year. It was the best decision I’ve ever made! I had extremely heavy periods for basically my entire life (I’m 32) and had countless doctors blame it on my weight or would tell me to go on birth control, which I didn’t want to do. I finally found a doctor who listened to me and helped me change my life with this surgery. Speak up for yourself and tell your doctor your symptoms, because you have to be your own best advocate. My period is great now and I feel like I am so much freer to just live my life. Just speak up for yourself if you think you might have a problem. I never knew what fibroids were at all until I had a smart and caring doctor show me what they were inside my own body.

  • I thought this article would be more enlightening about fibroids. I learned after my mother died from the removal of the 20-pound fibroid that had gone undetected in her, that there’s a tendency in the family for the condition which starts out as PCOS which had been ignored as a women’s disease for many decades. You need to find an OBGYN that specializes in the treatment of this for proper control of the condition.

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