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What You Should Know About Fibroids

Monday, November 19, 2018 Leave a Comment

Guest post by Dr. Daniel Marks

It’s likely you’ve heard the word fibroid before — that’s because uterine fibroids are the most common tumor of the female reproductive system. According to some estimates, 30 to 77 percent of women will develop fibroids, though not all will be diagnosed.

Thankfully the growths, which are also called leiomyomas or myomas, are typically benign or noncancerous. The growths can vary in size, shape, and location. While we don’t know the exact cause of fibroids, we do know that women age 30 to 40 are most likely to have them (though it’s possible for a woman of any age to have fibroids).

Fibroids are the number one indication for hysterectomy in the United States, though it’s important to know there are additional treatment options, which we’ll explore in a bit. First, let’s talk about the most common symptoms; how we diagnose fibroids; factors that could increase your risk of getting fibroids; and some things you can do to reduce your chances.

Oftentimes fibroids don’t cause pain or symptoms, which means you might have one without even knowing. If there are symptoms, the most common ones include heavy periods, pelvic pressure, pain during intercourse and cramping. When fibroids get very large, a patient could have kidney issues as the size of the fibroid could impinge on the ureter. Fibroids can also cause infertility so if you’re having trouble getting pregnant, it’s important to have a full workup to determine the cause. Depending on where the fibroid(s) are located, sometimes getting them removed can help with fertility.

Your doctor might discover a fibroid during a routine exam. The most common way to diagnose a fibroid is with imaging, like a pelvic ultrasound. CT scans and MRI’s can also pick them up as well.

Genetics and race play a big role in the risk factors for fibroids. If your grandma, mom, or sister had or has fibroids, you’re more likely to have them. African American women seem to be at an increased risk of getting fibroids, though we’re unsure as to why this is the case. African American women also have the worst symptoms and a higher likelihood of needing a hysterectomy.

Women who are obese are also at increased risk. Consuming a lot of alcohol, red meat, soy products, and ham seems to also increase your risk.

While there’s not a clear path to prevention when it comes to fibroids, staying at a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet (rich in green leafy vegetables, carrots and sweet potatoes, iron-rich foods, and whole grains) will help to reduce your risk.

When it comes to treating a fibroid tumor, there are a few different approaches. The treatment depends on how the fibroid is affecting the patient and impacting their quality of life. The large majority of patients who have fibroids don’t even know they have them. If this is the case and the patient isn’t having any symptoms, we do expectant management, which is just keeping a close eye on them.

The mainstay of treatment is a hysterectomy, which is the only way to guarantee the fibroid won’t come back. Obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone, especially women who still want to have children.

That’s where other surgical procedures come into play, like a myomectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the tumors while preserving the uterus. There are multiple ways to do a myomectomy. Uterine artery embolization is a minimally invasive treatment for fibroids your doctor might recommend. During this procedure, an interventional radiologist uses a catheter to deliver small particles that block the blood supply to the fibroid in hopes they’ll shrink and die. This is a good option for pre-menopausal women who want to keep their uterus and avoid surgery (or who are not good surgical candidates).

What Should I Do if I Think I Might Have Fibroids?
If you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s important to see a provider who is experienced in dealing with fibroids. If you’re diagnosed with fibroids, your doctor should come up with an individualized treatment plan based on the nature of the fibroid(s), your age, reproductive plans, and if you’re a good surgical candidate.

Dr. Daniel Marks, DO, is a physician at Consultants in Obstetrics and Gynecology where he treats women who have fibroids. He is passionate about caring for women and supporting their healthcare needs. Visit consobgyn.com to learn more.