Uterine fibroids are so common that there are even Reddit threads dedicated to discussing them and the impact they have on women’s lives.
While some of these threads contain images of fibroids after being removed from the body, you shouldn’t let graphic photos concern you. In the majority of cases, fibroids do not lead to problematic health complications.
In fact, you may not even know you have them.
With that in mind, we spoke to two experts about how to recognise the symptoms of uterine fibroids and what to do next.
What are uterine fibroids?
According to Dr Clare Morrison, the GP for online doctor service MedExpress, fibroids are “firm, compact tumours made of small muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus”.
“Some estimates suggest that 30-77% of women will develop fibroids at some stage during their childbearing years. However only a third are big enough to be detected,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“It’s not clear exactly what causes fibroids. However it’s believed that each tumour develops from an abnormal muscle cell in the uterus, which multiplies due to the influence of oestrogen.
“Fibroids tend to grow rapidly during pregnancy when hormone levels are high and shrink when anti-hormone medication is used.”
Emma Soos, managing director of The Women’s Health Clinic, adds that in the vast majority of cases uterine fibroids are non-cancerous. “However, they do need to be monitored when found,” she tells HuffPost UK.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Dr Morrison says many women don’t realise they have fibroids at first. However, as they grow they’re more likely to cause symptoms such as:
:: Abdominal pain and swelling
:: Pain in your pelvis
:: Regular urination
:: Backache or leg pain
:: Heavy periods that last a long time.
Soos explains that the impact of uterine fibroids on your periods can sometimes have the side effect of iron deficiency, meaning some women may experience added symptoms such as dizziness.
In rare cases, particularly large fibroids can cause infertility by preventing a fertilised egg attaching itself to the lining of the womb, or preventing sperm from reaching the egg.
How are uterine fibroids treated?
If uterine fibroids aren’t causing you problems, you’ll be unlikely to know you have them and in this instance, Soos says they are best “left well alone”.
However, women experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above should visit their GP who will be able to refer them on for testing and diagnosis.
According to the NHS, uterine fibroids are usually diagnosed via an abdominal ultrasound scan or transvaginal ultrasound scan (where a small ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina).
Once you’ve received a diagnosis, Dr Morrison says treatment for fibroids is “not a one-size-fits-all approach”.
You may be advised to take certain types of the contraceptive pill if heavy bleeding is your main symptom, as this can make bleeding lighter.
Some women might be prescribed hormonal therapy treatments, which involve the use of hormones to shrink fibroids.
“Non-hormonal therapies are another option – and include a class of drugs called antifibrinolytics,” Dr Morrison adds.
Surgery to remove the fibroids is another option, however Dr Morrison warns that this could cause scar tissue “which can trigger infertility and pelvic pain”.
In serious cases, a woman may need a hysterectomy.
“Taking out the uterus is one option to cure uterine fibroids; but it’s important to be aware of the short-term risks, such as blood loss and infection,” she says.
The type of treatment you are offered will change depending on the exact position, size and shape of your fibroids, so speak to a medical professional for individual advice tailored to you.