The term fibroid tumor can sound quite scary. In fact, these very common tumors are non-cancerous (benign). The presence of fibroid tumors is often indicated by heavy or prolonged bleeding during a period, pelvic pressure or pain and, sometimes, difficulty getting pregnant. Sometimes, however, the tumors are asymptomatic and a woman can be completely oblivious to their presence.
Because fibroids are not cancerous, and only rarely cause problems as severe as infertility or miscarriage, most doctors take the watch and wait approach. If, however, the tumors cause great discomfort or are interfering with fertility or pregnancy, your doctor may recommend more serious treatment options.
The Basics About Fibroid Tumors
To understand more about fibroid tumors, you need to know a bit about the general anatomy of your uterus. The uterus consists of the main body and the cervix. The body of the uterus is very strong and elastic, designed to expand and support a full-term pregnancy. The cervix is located at the base of the main body of the uterus and connects to the top of the vaginal canal.
The main body of your uterus is made up of two different tissue layers; the myometrium, or the muscular wall, and the endometrium, which forms the inner layer of the uterus. The endometrium is the layer that undergoes the most changes throughout your menstrual cycle, shed and regenerated when you have your period. In most cases, fibroid tumors are found in the myometrium layer. Cervical fibroids are less common.
What causes fibroids?
Doctors aren’t 100% sure as to what causes fibroids. What we do know is that about two out of every ten women will have fibroid tumors, whether she knows it or not. We think that genetics and hormonal balances play the largest roles in whether or not a woman will develop fibroids. We also know that African-American women are more prone to developing fibroids than other races.
The tumors seem to be most prevalent when women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, hence their flare-ups during a woman’s period. Most women in menopause find that their fibroids shrink considerably or disappear altogether. Note: If you are in peri-menopause or menopause and you suffer from fibroid tumors, think twice about hormone replacement therapies as these can perpetuate fibroid tumor activity.
Small genetic changes that occur in the smooth muscle layers of the myometrium can cause the cells to multiply, forming fibroid tumors. These tumors can grow or shrink over time and in response to the hormone levels in your body. If they do not cause any significant pain or discomfort, it is best to leave them alone.
What are the symptoms of fibroid tumors?
The most common symptoms of fibroid tumors include:
- Heavier bleeding and/or prolonged bleeding during your period.
- Moderate to severe period cramps
- Severe pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse or bowel movements
- Frequent urination
Less common symptoms can include hemorrhoids, constipation, kidney problems and recurrent miscarriage.
What is the treatment for fibroid tumors?
Unless the fibroids are causing considerable pain, discomfort or other complications, we like to take the “watch and wait” approach. You may want to use over-the-counter pain meds during your period. Sometimes, something as simple as a hormonal-based birth control that regulates hormone production will be enough to limit bleeding and pain during your periods, although they do not eradicate the fibroid tumors. In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medications or laparoscopic surgery.
Hysterectomies used to be a treatment of choice as they are the only way to completely eliminate fibroid tumors. Each of these treatments has its risks and benefits, which should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor before you make a final decision.
Suspect you may have fibroid tumors? Are you looking for a second opinion? Schedule a consultation with Overlake OB/GYN and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.
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