Fibroids: What Every Woman
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Fibroids: What Every Woman Needs to Know
Whether it is you, a girlfriend or a relative, chances are you know someone who is living with fibroids. It is estimated that up to 80% of all women will develop fibroids at some point before the age of 50. Many women living with fibroids do not experience any symptoms. But for others, fibroids can cause pain, menstrual problems and, in some rare cares, infertility.
So what is a fibroid, exactly? It is a muscular tumor that grows in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids are almost always benign (not cancerous). They can grow as a single tumor or mass – or there may be several of them growing at once. They also vary in size. Some are as small as an apple seed while others may grow as large as a grapefruit.
Small fibroids typically cause few, if any, problems. However women living with larger fibroids or several fibroids may experience abdominal pain and discomfort. Fibroids put pressure on the bladder, which can cause frequent urination, or on the rectum, which can cause rectal discomfort. When fibroids get very large, they can actually cause the abdomen to enlarge, forming what may look like a pregnancy belly.
No one knows exactly what causes fibroids, but researchers believe it may be a combination of a woman's changing hormones mixed with a genetic predisposition. Doctors also aren't sure why fibroids often grow or shrink. Often fibroids will grow rapidly while a woman is pregnant (when hormones are high) and will usually shrink during menopause (when hormones decline).
While it is not known why certain women develop fibroids while others don't, there are several factors that can increase a woman's risk:
- Age: Women are most likely to develop fibroids beginning in their 30s and 40s and continuing through menopause.
- Family History: If you have a mother, grandmother or sister with fibroids, you are at greater risk of developing them yourself. In fact, if a woman's mother had fibroids, her risk of developing fibroids increases three-fold.
- Ethnic Origin: African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
- Obesity: Being overweight increases a woman's risk for fibroids. For very obese women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
- Eating Habits: Eating a lot of red meat has been linked to a higher risk of fibroids, while eating lots of green vegetables appears to decrease a woman's risk.
Often times, women are not even aware that they have fibroids. But some women may experience symptoms, depending on the size and quantity of fibroids.
Symptoms may include:
- Heavy and/or painful periods
- Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area
- Enlargement of lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Lower back pain
- Complications during pregnancy and labor
- Reproductive problems (rare)
Typically, fibroids are discovered during a woman's annual pelvic exam. The diagnosis is then confirmed using imaging such as ultrasound or MRI. Although treatment is typically not necessary, if the fibroids are causing pain and discomfort treatment options may include medication or one of a variety of surgeries.
To learn more about fibroids and other problems "below the belt," attend one of Dignity Health's upcoming free seminars. Register today!