What Is a Fibroid and Do I Have One?

What are fibroids and what is the impact of having them?

Anyone with a uterus will agree that they are fairly high maintenance—a lot can (and does) go wrong with them. That whole area throws a hissy fit once a month and there is just generally a lot of attention needed down there.

But even though a lot goes on, that kind of stuff is all normal, but sometimes things can go wrong and you notice things that are not normal, and these things should be looked at as soon as possible. The longer you leave any medical problem, the worse it could potentially get.

What is a fibroid and how common are they?

A fibroid is a non cancerous tumor made of muscle and fibrous tissue (the same stuff as the walls of the uterus),  but they are much heavier and more dense. They can be located in or on the uterus and vary in size.

Fibroids are incredibly common. In fact, a study by the NHS has shown that 80 percent of women have them by the age of 50, and genetics will also play a part. Women of African ancestry and women whose parents have had them are more likely to develop fibroids.

And fibroids are so common that one in three women have them and don't even know that they have got them until it is discovered by a routine investigation such as a cervical screening or investigation for a urinary tract infection.

Fibroids can vary in size, from a tiny pea-sized tumor to the biggest fibroid on record, which stands at a leg crossing 21 lbs! And the problems that the fibroids will cause the sufferer will depend on their size and location. 

Why aren't we taught about fibroids?

As young girls, most of us are given the talk about what will happen when we start our periods and how we will become a little bit moody (a little bit, that always cracks me up) and how we lose a small amount of blood. Yet something that affects 80 percent of women we are told nothing about. 

Symptoms of Fibroids

As I said before, some women never develop symptoms of fibroids, but some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Significantly increased menstrual bleeding
  • Irregular periods
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Increased menstrual cramps
  • Pelvic and back pain (mild to severe)
  • Longer Periods
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Fullness or pressure in the stomach and bladder
  • Increased urination
  • Decreased urination or difficulty urinating
  • Unexplained weight gain (for large fibroids)
  • A lump in the stomach (for large fibroids)

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. They will normally refer you for an ultrasound scan to identify the root of the problem and go from there. Depending on the size and location of the fibroid(s), your GP will consider the best course of action. 

What is the treatment for fibroids?

There are a few things that can be done about fibroids. There is medication that you can take to help shrink them, but this only works if they are below a certain size and certain hospitals will only give you this medication for a very brief period of time because of cost issues (this is what the gynecologist told me). But this medication will help shrink and hopefully kill the fibroid.  

The fibroids can still grow back, and even if it is not gone, once your medication is finished, you won't get any more. 

Fibroid Embolization

This is where a surgeon will go in through groin veins on your legs and cut off the blood supply to the fibroid, which will kill it. This is something that requires a lot of investigation before it is offered as an option. I have been passed back and forth and been poked and prodded since August and it is now February and they are still trying to establish whether or not it is an option for me. My biggest fibroid is around 5.5 kg (around 12 lb in old money) and I have several other smaller ones, so it isn't a quick process, but apparently it is very effective.

Myomectomy

This is where only the fibroids themselves are removed, which should have less of an impact on your fertility. This is only suitable for certain types of fibroids, so the medical team would need to find out which kind you have before they offered this as an option. 

Hysterectomy

The gynecologist advised me that they only use this as a last resort for two reasons: they don't want to remove anyone's chance of having a baby, and it's a big operation for someone to go through, so they will only resort to this when they have to. 

Nothing

Depending on your age, the doctor may recommend that the best course of action is no action. This is because fibroids are said to shrink during menopause, so if you are close to the average menopause age, they may tell you to wait. But if the fibroids are causing you problems, then ask for a second opinion. You are well within your rights to ask to speak to someone else. 

You need to see a doctor.

If you think you have a fibroid, then you will need to go and see your doctor. It is not something you can self diagnose because it requires, at the very least, an ultrasound to confirm that it is nothing more sinister. But don't worry, fibroids are non cancerous and there is always something that doctors can do. You might just have to be patient and persistent. 

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What Is a Fibroid and Do I Have One?