A Primer on Uterine Fibroids
A Rose by Any Other Name ...
Fibromyomas, leiomyomas or myomas are all names for a commonly found uterine growth - fibroid tumors. Uterine fibroids usually appear during the childbearing years and tend to dissipate with menopause. They are non-cancerous and develop as a result of normal uterine muscle cells that grow abnormally and form a benign tumor either inside or outside of the uterus. As a rule, they are too small to cause problems or even to be noticed.
When Symptoms are Present
Fibroids affect many women, although most of them are not overly bothered by them. When a woman does have symptoms they may present as follows:
· heavy menstrual bleeding
· menstrual periods in excess of seven days
· pelvic pain and/or pressure
· frequent urination and difficulty emptying the bladder
· backache or leg pains
The Different Types of Fibroid Tumors
On rare occasions a fibroid will use up its blood supply by outgrowing it. Without a nutrient supply, the fibroid begins to die and in the process the decaying parts of the fibroid may seep into surrounding tissue causing pain and fever. If the fibroid is on a stalk pain can occur if it twists and cuts off its blood supply. The placement of the fibroid influences the symptoms that are present and the location also determines the name of the fibroid.
· Submucosal fibroids grow into the inner cavity of the uterus and are probably the cause of heavy periods that are prolonged. They may also be implicated in difficulties with conception for women who want to become pregnant.
· Myometrial or intramural fibroids also grow inside the uterus, in the muscular walls of the womb.
· Subserosal fibroids are those that project to the outside of the uterus, often pressing on the bladder and causing urination issues. Constipation can be caused as the fibroid bulges from the back of the uterus either pressing on the rectum or against spinal nerves causing pain.
· Pedunculated fibroids usually grow outside of the uterus and they are attached by a stalk or base. These are the fibroids that cause pain when they twist on the stalk.
Uterine fibroids can vary in size, ranging from microscopic to many inches across and weighing in at several pounds. Although they often don't cause problems, they may in some cases. If any of the following conditions occur, it is wise to see the health practitioner:
· pain in the pelvis that does not go away
· painful, extremely heavy periods
· breakthrough bleeding between periods
· pain during intercourse
· difficulty voiding and emptying the bowels
Seek immediate medical attention if there is severe vaginal bleeding and sudden, sharp pelvic pain.
We Think We Know a Bit About Them
Fibroids are created from the muscle tissue of the uterus called the myometrium. It all starts with a single cell that replicates itself until it eventually forms a rubbery mass that is different from the tissue that surrounds it. They grow at various rates, some quickly and others very slowly. Some will remain the same size and others will shrink and disappear. They range in size from seeds to balls large enough to change the shape of the uterus. There can be many or only one. In very extreme cases, a uterine fibroid can grow to the size of a seven month fetus.
Although doctors really don't know what causes them, some research seems to indicate common factors that may influence the growth of uterine fibroids.
· Genetic alteration in genes that differ from those in normal uterine muscle cells
· Growth promotion by estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones. Fibroids have more hormone receptors than normal uterine muscle cells
· Growth may be affected by other chemicals in the body, such as insulin-like growth factor
So, Who's at Risk?
Aside from being a woman of reproductive age, there are only a few known risk factors for uterine fibroids. Overall, these factors may have an influence on whether a woman develops fibroids but they are not decisive. The factors that may influence the growth of uterine fibroids in women are:
· Pregnancy and Childbirth
Although there is no conclusive research, it seems that uterine fibroids are often found in families. So, if a mother has them, it is likely her daughters will as well. Black women tend to have more incidents of uterine fibroids that are larger and in increased numbers. They also tend to get them much younger than other races. The risk of developing uterine fibroids decreases with pregnancy and childbirth.
Our site has an entire section devoted to Fibroids. Be sure to check out the article on Uterine Leiomyomata to learn more about diagnosis and treatment.