Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths in the uterus made up of muscular and fibroid tissue. Fibroids, also known as uterine leiomyomata, may either grow as a single tumor or in clusters. A single fibroid may vary immensely in size from less than an inch, like a small apple seed, to eight inches across or more, like a large grapefruit.
On the basis of their location in the uterus, fibroids can be divided into three groups:
- Subserosal Fibroids - These grow on the outer covering of the uterus.
- Intramural Fibroids - These grow within the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Submucosal Fibroids - These grow just underneath the uterine lining.
Fibroid tumors of the uterus are very common, occurring in about 20% to 40% of women who are 35 years of age or older. African-American women are at a higher risk; as many as 50% of them have fibroids of significant size.
Some Typical Symptoms of Fibroid Tumors
Studies have revealed that 30% to 50% of women who have uterine fibroids experience no symptoms and continue to carry out their day-to-day activities with ease, but in about 25% of women, fibroids tumors are quite symptomatic. In some women, the symptoms of uterine fibroids are so severe that they find it difficult to maintain a good quality of life.
A wide variety of symptoms can accompany fibroids. However, fibroids are not the only reason why a woman may experience some of these symptoms. Therefore, it is important to seek out a proper diagnosis from your doctor is you are bothered by any of these symptoms.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of fibroids. Often, women who have large or multiple fibroids encounter such problems as
- Finding it difficult to leave the house on the their menstrual flow is heaviest
- Quickly filling a sanitary napkin, making it necessary to change menstrual pads frequently, even as often as every hour
- A long bleeding period.
- Passing blood clots
All these instances indicate the presence of uterine fibroids.
It is important to note that excessive or prolonged bleeding can result in a condition called anaemia, which is characterized by fatigue, headache and lightheadedness. Anemia requires the use of prescribed iron supplements to restore depleted iron levels.
Pelvic Pain and Pressure
Over time, uterine fibroids may grow in size and start exerting pressure on the surrounding organs. This condition not only arouses a vague sense of discomfort, but also makes it difficult to lie face down or bend over.
At times, severe pain is experienced in the pelvic region due to the presence of fibroids. Pelvic pain usually occurs when the fibroid tumor undergoes a process called degeneration. The pain is generally persistent and localized, and improves within two to four weeks.
Acute pelvic pain also occurs when the stalk of a pedunculated subserosal or submucosal fibroid twists.
Bladder and Rectal Problems
Growing fibroids can exert pressure on the bladder, thereby reducing its capacity or blocking the outflow of urine. This results in the frequent urge to urinate or, occasionally, a woman may find it difficult to urinate despite having a full bladder.
Uterine fibroids may also press against the rectum, causing problems such as difficulty and pain with bowel movements and a feeling of rectal fullness. In some extreme cases, fibroids may induce the development of hemorrhoids.
Lower Back Pain
Although lower back pain is very common, sometimes fibroids, particularly large subserosal fibroids on the back surface of the uterus, may be responsible for it. Lower back pain occurs when fibroids press against muscles and nerves in the lower back region.
Pain or Discomfort During Sexual Intercourse
Intramural fibroids located in the cervix region are usually responsible for pain or discomfort during intercourse. Sometimes pain may occur only in specific positions or during certain times of the menstrual cycle.
Normally, it is believed that fibroid tumors do not have any effect on fertility and pregnancy, but studies have revealed that in about 3% of women, infertility is caused by uterine fibroids. Mainly large, multiple and pedunculated or stalked uterine fibroids are the real culprits.
Enlarged subserosal uterine fibroids may induce infertility in two ways:
- By compressing the fallopian tubes and blocking the passage of sperm and egg.
- By distorting the pelvic anatomy to such an extent that it becomes difficult for the fallopian tube to capture an egg at the time of ovulation.
Large or multiple intramural and submucosal fibroids are also not far behind when it comes to inducing infertility. These tumors of the uterus can cause infertility in a myriad of ways.
- They may block the fallopian tube, thereby preventing sperm from fertilizing the egg.
- They may increase the size of the uterine cavity, which increases the distance that sperm have to travel.
- Both intramural and submucosal fibroids may have a severe impact on the uterus’ ability to contract, which in turn can interfere with sperm migration and ovum transport.
- Multiple and large submucosal fibroid as well as intramural fibroid tumors can distort the entire anatomy of the uterus. In such a situation, even if the sperm is able to fertilize the egg, the chances of that egg implanting are drastically reduced.
Fibroid Symptoms During Pregnancy
All the three types of fibroids grow with the developing baby, creating a shortage of space. This may lead to miscarriage or congenital fetal deformities. Submucosal fibroids, in particular, can increase the chances of postpartum haemorrhage, cesarean section and complications in labour.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult a gynaecologist without delay. Although there is no permanent medicinal treatment of fibroids, a number of effective surgical procedures are available. However, some of these can compromise your fertility. If you are considering getting treatment for your fibroids, discuss with your doctor about all of your treatment options.
Bladder pressure and frequent urination can also be a sign of an STD. Check out our STD forum to see what other women are saying.