Uterine fibroids affect up to 80 percent of women but are also a relatively elusive condition. Not all women with fibroids know they have them, and diagnosis is not always straightforward. Unfortunately, individuals that do develop symptoms can have severe issues. Below is an in-depth look at what causes uterine fibroids, who is most at risk and more.
An Overview of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are common, non-cancerous growths, also referred to as leiomyomas. These growths form on the inside or outside the uterus or in the lining. They usually develop during the childbearing years. While fibroids are essentially a type of tumor, they rarely ever become cancerous, and contrary to frequent assumptions, fibroids are not linked to heightened risks of cancer of the uterus.
Fibroids can be tiny and barely detectable, but they can also grow into large masses that change the overall shape of the uterus or even cause weight gain. Further, there can be one or many fibroids. Some fibroids can grow as large as a watermelon, and fibroid clusters may range from just one millimeter to over 20 centimeters.
While many women do have these growths on their uterus, fibroids may never lead to symptoms or problems. However, large-growing fibroids or multiple fibroids can sometimes lead to severe problems and must be treated.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
Researchers aren’t sure what causes uterine fibroids, but there may be several factors involved, such as:
- Genetics – Genes found in many fibroids differ from genes in normal muscle cells of the uterus.
- Hormones – The hormones responsible for uterine lining development, progesterone and estrogen, seem to promote fibroid growth. Fibroids contain more hormone receptors than other uterine cells, and these growths often shrink when hormone levels go down during menopause.
- Extracellular matrix (ECM) – ECM is a fibrous material containing growth factors that hold cells together, and this material is abundant in fibroids.
- Growth factors – Certain growth factors produced by the body to support cellular turnover may encourage the growth of fibroids.
Risk Factors for Uterine Fibroids
Although the exact causes of uterine fibroids may not always be clear, there are several well-established risk factors. First and foremost, women are most at risk during their reproductive years. Other factors that may influence the development of fibroids include:
- Race – Black women face more risks of fibroids than other ethnicities, tend to develop fibroids earlier in life, and are more likely to have severe symptoms and larger fibroids.
- Obesity – People more than 20 percent over their recommended healthy body weight may face a higher risk of fibroids.
- Drinking alcohol – Women who drink alcohol face a greater risk of uterine fibroids.
- Heredity – If other immediate female family members had fibroids, your risks are higher.
- Early menstruation – Between 10 and 15 is the average age of menstruation onset; a younger age at onset may increase the risks.
- Diet – Vitamin D deficiency, eating a lot of red meat, or not eating a lot of green vegetables, fruit or dairy may heighten the risks of fibroid development.
Contact Coyle Institute for an appointment.
Do Fibroids Affect Pregnancy?
Usually, fibroids don’t affect your ability to conceive or carry a child. However, certain types of fibroids or fibroid locations may lead to infertility or inhibit your ability to remain pregnant. For example, submucosal fibroids that grow inside the uterus (womb) where a fetus would grow can cause issues. In some cases, the presence of fibroids can heighten the risks of experiencing complications while pregnant, such as growth restriction of the baby, placental abruption and even preterm delivery.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids To Grow After Menopause?
Usually, the onset of menopause causes a dip in hormone levels, which means fibroids most often shrink or simply stop growing. For this reason, most post-menopausal women, even those who previously had fibroid-related symptoms, will see their symptoms subside. However, rarely, fibroids can form or grow after menopause, even though the exact cause is not clear.
If you have a fibroid that grows after menopause and causes symptoms like bleeding or pain, surgery may be necessary. It is also important to note that certain types of cancer may be to blame, such as leiomyosarcoma. For this reason, uterine fibroids after menopause may be more thoroughly assessed and tested.
When To See a Doctor
If you have symptoms you suspect are caused by fibroids, schedule an appointment with your doctor. See a doctor if you experience:
- Ongoing pelvic pain
- Bleeding between periods
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Overly heavy periods or periods that last longer than usual
- Difficulty when urinating or not being able to empty your bladder fully
In the event you experience a sudden onset of severe bleeding or sudden pain in your pelvic region, seek medical attention right away.
How Are Fibroids Diagnosed?
Most fibroids are discovered during general pelvic exams. The doctor usually firmly presses on the abdomen to look for irregular masses or firm areas that could indicate the presence of fibroids. If fibroids are suspected, several tests may be performed to make a proper diagnosis, such as:
- A pelvic ultrasound to evaluate the uterus and any present growths
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for fibroids and examine their size, shape and texture
- Hysteroscopy to look at the uterus via a tube inserted through the vagina and cervix
- Hysterosalpingography to explore the fallopian tubes and uterus to look for blockages caused by fibroids
Find Fibroid Treatment at Coyle Institute
Fibroids affect all women differently, and every woman’s fibroids can be different. We work hard to help women obtain the proper diagnosis and the type of treatment that will benefit them the most when they have fibroid uterus complications. Reach out to Coyle Institute at 850-637-8258 to schedule an appointment.