What Are Fibroids?
Fibroids occur in roughly 20% of women of childbearing age. They are growths that are made up of muscle tissue and are found in the uterus. Fibroids are almost always benign Fibroids form when a muscle cell multiplies enough to form a tumor.
While fibroids are noncancerous, they can cause complications by altering the size and shape of the uterus and cervix. Fibroids may cause symptoms or require treatment based on how many you have, where they are located within the uterus, and how large they have grown.
Depending on their size and location, fibroids can affect pregnancy and fertility. While the majority of women with fibroids are not infertile, there are several ways fibroids can affect the reproductive process, including:
- Impacting the shape of the uterus in such a way that some sperm are blocked from entrance
- Affecting the shape of the uterus in a way that impacts the embryo
- Blocking the sperm or eggs from fallopian tubes
- Disrupting uterine lining
- Impeding blood flow to the uterus or baby
- Disrupting fertilization or growth of the baby
During pregnancy, fibroids can increase the risk of premature delivery or miscarriage by affecting the baby’s position in the uterus. Women who have fibroids or have had fibroids removed should discuss their options and birth plan with their doctor. Many women who are affected by fibroids opt for a cesarean section to deliver their baby.
Signs and symptoms of fibroids
While many women notice mild or no symptoms with fibroids, some women experience a variety of noticeable symptoms, such as:
Some women who develop fibroids may have very heavy bleeding during menstruation. Heavy bleeding often occurs in tandem with painful periods and cramps. Irregular or excessively heavy bleeding may lead to anemia and other complications.
Feeling of fullness
One symptom of fibroids is a sensation of fullness in the lower stomach area. This is often accompanied by significant bloating of the lower abdomen.
Some women who have fibroids may notice that they have a frequent urge to urinate.
Pain during sex
Lower back pain
Lower back pain — especially recurring pain — can be an indicator of fibroids in the uterus or cervix.
FiResearch shows that women who have fibroids may be up to six times more at risk for needing a cesarean section than women who do not. Beyond this, fibroids can cause a number of complications during pregnancy and labor, such as:
- Affect on the baby’s birthing position
- Damage to the placenta
- Premature birth
In rare cases, a woman with fibroids may not be able to become pregnant. Between 5% and 10% of infertile women have had uterine fibroids. However, most women who have fibroids in their uterus will eventually become infertile. Fertility interventions, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), are less effective in women with fibroids. It is important to ask your doctor about how fibroids can affect your fertility.
Causes of fibroids
The cause of fibroids is not known. However, research indicates that genetic factors and age play a significant role. While the cause of fibroids has yet to be determined, studies show that fibroids are more likely to occur in:
- Women who are obese
- Women who have a mother or sister with fibroids
- Women who have not yet been pregnant
- Black women
Researchers are still trying to understand why fibroids develop. They have also found that women who have already had multiple children and women who have used hormonal birth control are less likely to develop fibroids.
Your doctor may recommend additional imaging or surgical testing to confirm their diagnosis. Tests may include:
Treatments for fibroids
Currently, treatment for fibroids during pregnancy focuses on conservative treatment — typically prescription medication, but in rare cases, surgery.
Possible treatment of fibroids include:
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American Society for Reproductive Medicine: "What are Fibroids?"
Best Practice & Research: Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology: "Pregnancy outcome and uterine fibroids."
BMC Research Notes: "Uterine fibroids in pregnancy: prevalence, clinical presentation, associated factors and outcomes at the Limbe and Buea Regional Hospitals, Cameroon: a cross-sectional study."
InformedHealth: "Uterine fibroids: Overview."
Office on Women’s Health: "Uterine fibroids."
Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America: "The Impact and Management of Fibroids for Fertility: an evidence-based approach."
Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology: "Contemporary Management of Fibroids in Pregnancy."
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