Learn About Uterine Fibroids

Fibroids are actually quite common, affecting up to 80% of women by the age of 50.1 According to the Office on Women’s Health, nobody knows for sure what causes fibroids, but research has uncovered a few factors that play a role in whether or not a woman will develop fibroids in her lifetime.1

 

Hormones: Fibroids can grow or shrink under hormone manipulation or changes. Fibroids tend to grow during pregnancy, when hormone levels are higher, and shrink when anti-hormonal drug therapies are used to lower levels.1 Additionally, fibroids may shrink or stop growing once a woman reaches menopause.1

Genetics: Some research suggests that there is a heredity component to a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.1 If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of also experiencing them is roughly three times higher than someone who does not have fibroids in her family. 2

Race: Black women are also considerably more likely to have fibroids than other racial groups.  What’s more, they tend to have fibroids at younger ages and experience larger fibroids that are more likely to be symptomatic.3

Fibroids are typically noncancerous muscular tumors that grow in the muscle walls of the uterus. They can grow as a single mass, or there could be several fibroids in the uterus at once. They also vary in size from as small as an apple seed to as large as a grapefruit.1

In many cases, women will never experience symptoms related to their fibroids, but some women will experience symptoms like:1,3

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Periods lasting longer than a week
  • Pelvic pressure or pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Constipation
  • Backache or leg pain
  • Complications during pregnancy and labor
  • Reproductive problems, such as infertility

If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms, consider talking with a doctor to discover what the root cause might be, and what your potential treatments are.

Uterine Fibroid Treatment Options

Advances in medicine have led to the availability a number of treatments to help women suffering from fibroids get back to living life to the fullest, including options to manage symptoms or remove fibroids entirely.

Changes in diet and exercise can actually make a difference in your uterine health, and can help to alleviate painful symptoms associated with fibroids. Still, be sure to talk with your doctor before making any significant changes in your routine.

Take Your Vitamins

In addition to adopting a nutritious and well-rounded diet, it may be helpful to incorporate certain vitamins into your regimen to help ease symptoms related to fibroids. Vitamin B, vitamin E, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce symptoms.  If you notice you aren’t getting enough in your food, you can find these vitamins in supplements.

Additionally, vitamin K may help manage heavy bleeding, because it can support the blood’s ability to clot. Vitamin K can be found in foods like:

  • Leafy greens (think spinach, kale, turnip green, etc.)
  • Oats and whole wheat
  • Green beans and green peas

Increasing iron and vitamin C in your diet is also recommended to help prevent anemia.

Exercise and Stress Management

If you’re experiencing period pain, try aerobic exercise or . Not only are these forms of exercise stress relievers, they also help to balance hormones, which can keep painful period symptoms at bay.

If you practice yoga, you know how important proper breathing is. The deep breaths promoted during yoga practice help oxygen circulate the body and get into your muscles. Since a main factor of menstrual cramping is a lack of oxygen in your uterine muscles, this is a great way to soothe painful cramps.

Acupuncture can also be a helpful way to manage stress and relieve pain and nausea by targeting pressure points across the body.

Depending upon your health, lifestyle and age, your doctor may recommend a hysterectomy, a procedure that removes the uterus entirely, or in some cases, the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries altogether, which is known as a total hysterectomy.11 Hysterectomy is often a consideration for more severe cases, when a woman has not responded to other treatments, or when a woman is near or past menopause.

The decision to undergo a hysterectomy is a major one for your physical and emotional health. Be sure to discuss all potential treatment avenues with your doctor before making a decision, and remember that you always have options when it comes to your menstrual health.

Non-hormonal drugs

Non-hormonal drugs, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen), are typically used as a short-term treatment as they help to reduce pain related to fibroids, but will not reduce the size of fibroids or bleeding. 

Hormonal Drugs

Hormonal drugs can help to alleviate pain and symptoms associated with fibroids by directly targeting the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. While these medications can’t remove fibroids, there is potential for fibroids to shrink under hormone control.

There are a number of brands of birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) that offer hormonal therapy. Your doctor may also recommend "gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists" (GnRHa), which are drugs used to help shrink fibroids – they can be administered by injection, nasal spray or implant.

If you’re considering drug therapy as an option to help manage your symptoms, be sure to discuss all considerations with your doctor so you can find the best fit for your body and lifestyle.

For women looking to have their fibroids removed for symptom relief or fertility reasons, there are minimally invasive procedures you can explore with your doctor: 

Hysteroscopic Myomectomy

Some types of polyps and fibroids can be removed through a procedure called a hysteroscopic myomectomy. During this procedure, the doctor inserts an instrument (hysteroscope) through the vagina to visualize the inside of your uterus in order to identify the fibroid or polyp. A tool is then inserted through the hysteroscope to remove the tissue.

This treatment may be an option if you’re looking to reduce heavy bleeding related to fibroids, while retaining a fully functioning uterus.

If you are considering a hysteroscopic myomectomy, ask your doctor about the MyoSure® procedure. You can learn more about the MyoSure®procedure here.

Laparoscopic Myomectomy

Similar to a hysteroscopic myomectomy, laparoscopic myomectomy removes fibroids and leaves the uterus intact. However, the procedure uses instruments that are inserted via small incisions in your abdomen to remove the fibroids, while your doctor uses a small camera to see inside the uterus.

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)

UFE is an option for women who are finished with childbearing, but don’t want a hysterectomy. The procedure consists of a tube being threaded into your blood vessels to stop blood supply to the fibroid, ultimately causing it to shrink. It can be helpful for women who are experiencing pain or pressure in the bladder or rectum as a result of their fibroids.

REFERENCES

  1. Uterine Fibroid Fact Sheet. Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids. Accessed February 20, 2019. 
  2. Stacey L. Eggert, Karen L. Huyck. Genome-wide Linkage and Association Analyses Implicate FASN in Predisposition to Uterine Leiomyomata. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 2012; 91 (4): 621 DOI:1016/j.ajhg.2012.08.009
  3. “Uterine Fibroids: Symptoms & Causes.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/symptoms-causes/syc-20354288. Accessed February 20, 2019. 
  4. “How to Treat Uterine Fibroids Yourself.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/fibroids-natural-treatment Accessed February 20, 2019.
  5. Winchester Hospital (Lahey Health System). Health Library: Vitamin K. http://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=21883. Accessed February 20, 2019.
  6. “Iron deficiency anemia.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034. Accessed February 20, 2019.
  7. "Uterine Fibroids: Diagnosis & Treatment.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354294 Accessed February 20, 2019. 
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