You’ve probably heard of them, and you might even have them. But what exactly are fibroids and how do they affect us? Here are the basics. If fibroids are a cause for concern for you, pick up the phone and call your GP for a chat.
Q: What are fibroids?
A: Fibroids, AKA leiomyoma, are tumours that grow in the wall of the uterus. They’re nearly always benign (not cancerous). You might get just the one, or they can grow in groups. The sizing varies wildly from apple pip to grapefruit.
Q: What causes fibroids?
A: one really knows. Hormones come under scrutiny as a possible cause. No one’s worked out a proper link as yet, but they do grow quickly if you are pregnant, and they’re also known to shrink under hormone-controlling meds such as the pill. They also stop growing after menopause.
Q: Who gets fibroids?
A: About 20 to 80 per cent of women (yes, the numbers are that vague) will develop fibroids by the time they’re 50. They’re most common in your 30s, 40s and early 50s, but in recent years have increasingly been found in women in their 20s. If you’re under 20, fibroids are rare, but they do happen. You are also at increased risk if your ethnicity is black or Asian, if you are overweight, and if you eat a lot of red meat. And as with many disorders, you’re a lot more likely to get them if your mum or gran has had them, so ask the question.
Q: What are the symptoms of fibroids?
A: Most women with fibroids do not have any symptoms. But for those who do, they can be quite disruptive. These include heavy and painful periods resulting in anaemia, lower back pain and pain during sex. If they are larger, fibroids can press on the bladder, so you need to pee more often or on the rectum, so you feel pressure there. Should the fibroids get really big, they can cause you to look bloated, or even pregnant.
Q: How are fibroids diagnosed?
A: Your doctor may discover them when you go for a pap smear or pelvic exam. They can also be spotted on ultrasound, MRI and X-ray. If you have symptoms but none of these show up any evidence, you might need a surgical procedure such as a laparoscopy (a teeny camera inserted through your belly button) or hysteroscopy (a teeny camera inserted through the cervix).
Q: What’s the treatment for fibroids?
A: If you have fibroids but they’re not causing you any problems, they might not be treated at all. It depends on things like your age, the size of the fibroids and where they’re growing, and whether you’re planning to get pregnant (fibroids can cause complications during pregnancy and birth). If you are symptomatic, your doctor may suggest medications to halt growth or shrink them, or surgery to remove them completely. Hysterectomy used to be the answer, but these days there are less invasive options, and this is only used as a last resort.