Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths that develop in the muscle tissue of the uterus. While they are common among women of reproductive age, they often go unnoticed due to a lack of symptoms. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on uterine fibroids, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and management options, empowering you with the knowledge to make informed decisions about your health.
Understanding Uterine Fibroids
What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas or myomas, are non-cancerous growths that develop in the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus. They vary in size, ranging from microscopic to as large as a grapefruit. There are four main types of uterine fibroids, classified based on their location in the uterus:
a) Intramural fibroids: These are the most common type and develop within the muscular wall of the uterus.
b) Subserosal fibroids: These grow on the outer surface of the uterus and can sometimes extend into the pelvic cavity.
c) Submucosal fibroids: These are less common and grow just beneath the uterine lining, projecting into the uterine cavity.
d) Pedunculated fibroids: These grow on a stalk or stem that extends from the uterine wall. They can be either subserosal or submucosal in location.
Prevalence and risk factors
Uterine fibroids are prevalent among women of reproductive age, affecting 20-80% of women by the age of 50. They are more common in African American women than in Caucasian women. The risk factors associated with developing uterine fibroids include:
a) Age: Fibroids are most common in women in their 30s and 40s.
b) Family history: A woman is at higher risk if her mother or sister has had fibroids.
c) Early menstruation: Women who started menstruating before the age of 10 are at a higher risk.
d) Obesity: Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing fibroids.
Causes of uterine fibroids
The exact cause of uterine fibroids is still unknown, but several factors may contribute to their development:
Hormonal factors are considered one of the primary causes of these benign tumors. Estrogen and progesterone, the two main female sex hormones, play a crucial role in the growth and development of fibroids. These hormones stimulate the growth of the uterine lining during each menstrual cycle, which can inadvertently promote the growth of fibroid cells. Research has shown that fibroids contain a higher concentration of estrogen and progesterone receptors compared to normal uterine cells. This increased sensitivity to hormonal changes may trigger fibroid formation and growth. Furthermore, hormonal imbalances, such as those caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or perimenopause, can exacerbate fibroid development.
Research indicates that genetic mutations may play a role in the development of uterine fibroids. Women with a family history of fibroids are more likely to develop them, suggesting that a genetic predisposition may exist.
Some studies suggest that exposure to environmental factors, such as certain chemicals and pollutants, may increase the risk of developing fibroids. Additionally, lifestyle factors, like poor diet and lack of physical activity, may contribute to the development or growth of fibroids.
Heavy menstrual bleeding
One of the most common symptoms of uterine fibroids is heavy menstrual bleeding, also known as menorrhagia. Women with fibroids may experience periods that last longer than normal, heavy bleeding that requires frequent changing of sanitary products, or passing blood clots. Heavy menstrual bleeding can lead to anemia, fatigue, and weakness due to the loss of iron in the blood.
Pelvic pain and pressure
Uterine fibroids can cause persistent pelvic pain and pressure, which may be felt as a dull ache or sharp cramping sensation. The pain can be localised in the lower abdomen or radiate to the lower back or legs. Large fibroids can exert pressure on surrounding organs, such as the bladder or bowel, leading to discomfort and a sensation of fullness in the pelvic area.
When fibroids grow and press against the bladder, they can cause an increased need to urinate or a feeling of not being able to empty the bladder completely. This pressure may lead to urinary frequency, urgency, or even incontinence. Additionally, women with fibroids may experience difficulty urinating or the need to urinate at night, disrupting their sleep.
Constipation and bloating
Fibroids can also cause constipation and bloating if they press against the rectum or intestines, hindering the passage of stool or gas. The pressure on the bowels can lead to discomfort, irregular bowel movements, and a feeling of fullness or heaviness in the abdomen. In some cases, fibroids may cause abdominal distention or an enlarged abdomen, making it difficult to wear certain clothing or engage in daily activities.
Heavy menstrual bleeding caused by uterine fibroids can lead to anaemia, a condition in which there is a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, and pale skin. In severe cases, it may lead to heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat or heart failure. Treatment for anemia usually involves iron supplements or, in extreme cases, blood transfusions.
Although uterine fibroids do not always cause fertility issues, they can contribute to infertility in some cases. Fibroids may change the shape of the uterus or the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg. Submucosal fibroids can interfere with the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterine lining, while large fibroids can block the fallopian tubes, preventing the sperm from reaching the egg. If fibroids are suspected to be the cause of infertility, treatment options such as surgery may be considered to improve fertility.
While many women with fibroids can have healthy pregnancies, some may experience complications related to the presence of fibroids. These complications may include an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, placental abruption, or fetal growth restriction. In some cases, fibroids may also affect the position of the fetus in the uterus, leading to a breech presentation or the need for a cesarean delivery. Pregnant women with fibroids should be closely monitored by their healthcare providers to manage any potential complications.
Diagnosing Uterine Fibroids – Physical examination
A pelvic exam is often the first step in diagnosing uterine fibroids. During the exam, a healthcare provider will manually assess the size and shape of the uterus by palpating the abdomen and pelvis. They will also check for any abnormalities or tenderness that might suggest the presence of fibroids.
If fibroids are suspected during a pelvic exam, an ultrasound may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the uterus and can help determine the size, location, and number of fibroids. There are two types of ultrasound used for this purpose: transabdominal and transvaginal. A transabdominal ultrasound involves placing a probe on the abdomen, while a transvaginal ultrasound involves inserting a probe into the vagina to obtain clearer images of the uterus.
Additional diagnostic tests
In some cases, further tests may be needed to provide more information about the fibroids or to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. These tests may include:
Hysterosalpingography is an X-ray examination of the uterus and fallopian tubes, typically used to investigate fertility issues. During the procedure, a contrast dye is injected into the uterus, and X-ray images are taken to assess the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes. This test can help identify submucosal fibroids or other abnormalities.
A hysteroscopy involves inserting a thin, lighted scope called a hysteroscope through the vagina and cervix to examine the inside of the uterus. This procedure can help diagnose submucosal fibroids and other conditions affecting the uterine lining.
Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that uses a small camera, called a laparoscope, to examine the pelvic organs. The laparoscope is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen, allowing the surgeon to view the uterus and other pelvic organs.
Managing Uterine Fibroids
In many cases, especially when uterine fibroids are small and not causing significant symptoms, a healthcare provider may recommend a “watchful waiting” approach. This involves monitoring your symptoms and having regular check-ups to track the growth or changes in the fibroids. Lifestyle changes and wellness supplements may help manage mild symptoms during this period.
Regular check-ups with a functional doctor are crucial in monitoring the progression of uterine fibroids. These appointments will help assess any changes in the size or number of fibroids and ensure that appropriate treatment is provided if symptoms worsen or complications arise.
Natural Hormone Support
KIKO HORMONE BALANCE, an organic supplement, contains ingredients such as Chasteberry and Dong Quai, which may help regulate hormonal balance and alleviate some fibroid-related symptoms.
Diet and exercise
Maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help manage uterine fibroids and improve overall health. Consuming anti-inflammatory diet and staying hydrated may alleviate some digestive issues associated with fibroids, such as constipation and bloating.
Kiko Debloat + Gut Glow is an organic supplement with ingredients that may help address gastrointestinal symptoms related to uterine fibroids. Slippery Elm, Peppermint, and Lemon Balm may help alleviate bloating and gastrointestinal issues, while Dandelion Root can support liver function and detoxification. Papaya Enzyme aids in nutrient absorption and digestion, and Ginger Root may help with inflammation, digestion, and bloating.
Managing stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, can help improve overall wellbeing and may have a positive impact on hormonal balance.
Incorporating the use of KIKO Hormone BALANCE and Kiko Debloat + Gut Glow into your daily routine, along with regular medical check-ups and a healthy lifestyle, may contribute to managing uterine fibroids effectively. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement or treatment plan.
Understanding, diagnosing, and managing uterine fibroids is essential for maintaining overall health and wellbeing. By being aware of the symptoms, risk factors, and management options, women can make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect that you may have uterine fibroids or experience any related symptoms. A personalized treatment plan, taking into account your specific needs, will ensure the best possible outcomes.