woman with fibroids

Fibroids: Mysterious But Common

Fibroids are not just a pain in the butt, they’re a pain in the uterus. Ba dum tss. All jokes aside, abnormal growths called fibroids are actually very common in women. But being common doesn’t make them sound any less scary, right? Well, here’s what you should know. Fibroids can appear in or on the uterus and they’re usually benign and noncancerous. They affect a little over 80% of women by the age of 50, but these growths typically don’t show any symptoms. In fact, you can go your whole life without knowing they’re there.  

Though fibroids may sound like something serious, these growths are usually harmless. Here’s a quick rundown, so you can be assured that they’re just another part of our anatomy.

Types of Fibroids

Many people don’t know this, but there are different types of fibroids. It’s also possible to have more than one type. Some of them grow on the outside of the uterus and others grow on small stalks inside of the uterus. The type is determined based on where it’s located in and around the uterus. Consider the following:  

  • Intramural: The most common type of fibroid. These growths appear on the muscular wall of the uterus
  • Subserosal: These grow on the outside of your uterus which is called, you guessed it, the serosa. 
  • Pedunculated: These occur when subserosal fibroids develop a stem which supports it. This development then elevates the subserosal fibroid to become a pedunculated fibroid.
  • Submucosal: These develop in the middle muscle layer of the uterus. These are the least common type.

But What Causes Fibroids?

Truth is, there’s no clear reason as to why these little growths develop. Doctors attribute the development of fibroids to a variety of possible factors, such as genetic changes or family history. One very possible cause are hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, which are produced in the ovaries and help the uterine lining regenerate during each menstrual cycle. The production of these two hormones rapidly increases during pregnancy, and pregnancy is also thought to be a cause of fibroids.  

Though the cause of fibroids is not known for sure, there are still risk factors that make it more likely that you’ll develop fibroids. If your mother and sister had them, then these little buggers may run in your genes. If you started your period at an early age, have a vitamin D deficiency, or are overweight, then you have a higher risk of developing fibroids.  

Fibroid Symptoms

As I mentioned before, you can have fibroids and not even know it. However, there are some symptoms you can look for. The location, number, and size of fibroids may have some women experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding and periods that last more than a week
  • Pelvic pressure or pain, which can cause more frequent bathroom trips and bladder incontinence.
  • Frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Back or leg pains

Though fibroids are rarely dangerous, they can cause plenty of discomfort and, if severe, can cause anemia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

For a proper diagnosis of fibroids, visit your gynecologist for a pelvic exam. From there, it’s possible you may need a second exam, such as an ultrasound or a pelvic MRI.

Depending on the size and location, treatment plans can vary. Possible treatments can include minor surgery or medications that regulate hormones to shrink fibroids. If you’re looking for more natural treatments, you’ve got options. You can try acupuncture, yoga, or make dietary changes like cutting down on meats and high-calorie foods. In fact, eating more green veggies and green tea is said to help shrink fibroids.

Like Your Appendix

Raise your hand if you thought fibroids were much worse than this. Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that 1) they’re common and 2) they’re treatable. Overall, fibroids are that part of our anatomy most of us don’t even know about. It’s almost like an appendix where you don’t know it’s there until it acts up. You can literally go your entire life not knowing you have one, which makes it sort of intriguing. If you are noticing fibroid symptoms, then check with your doctor.

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By Jessica Thomas, MPH