Uterine fibroids: symptoms and causes
Often, fibroids do not show any symptoms and are only discovered during routine check-ups. But around one in every three women with fibroids will experience some symptoms which will interfere with daily life.
If you have any of the following symptoms (see tabs below) and are concerned you may have fibroids, talk to your doctor about available management options.
Heavy periods do not necessarily mean something serious or wrong, but they can have an emotional and social impact on daily life and lead to iron-deficiency anaemia, tiredness and shortness of breath.
You should be able to tell if your periods become very heavy if you need to use an unusually high number of tampons or pads, need to use both together, or experience bleeding through your clothes or bedding.
This can happen because fibroids irritate the lining of the womb (the endometrium) and disturb the reproductive cycle.
The average menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days, but anything between 24 – 35 days is considered normal. Irregular bleeding is when your periods last longer than seven days, there are less than three weeks between the start of one period and the next, you have bleeding between periods, or bleeding after sex.
Frequent urination and constipation
Needing to go to the toilet more often than normal can happen if fibroids press on the bladder so you may have to get up in the middle of the night or go to the toilet more frequently during the day.
Fibroids may also press on the large intestine, which can cause constipation and pain during bowel movements.
Constipation means you are not able to pass stools regularly or are unable to completely empty your bowels.
Fibroids can cause heavy or painful bleeding during periods as they can irritate the womb (uterus) and make it bigger.
Pelvic pain and feeling of pressure
in the stomach
Fibroids can cause pain or swelling in the pelvis (below your belly button), especially if they are large. They may also cause some pain in the lower back and legs.
Pain and discomfort during sex
If fibroids are growing near the vagina or the neck of the womb (the cervix), some women can experience pain during sex, which can have an impact on relationships.
Difficulty becoming pregnant or infertility
Occasionally, fibroids can lead to problems with becoming pregnant or infertility (the inability to become pregnant).
For most healthy couples, 95% of women will become pregnant within two years of having regular unprotected sex. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a couple is said to be infertile if the woman has not managed to become pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected sex.
Infertility can happen if fibroids are very large or submucosal, where they grow into the cavity of the womb. Depending on their type and size, fibroids can sometimes prevent a fertilised egg from attaching itself to the lining of the womb, or they may block the fallopian tube, making pregnancy difficult.
In some cases, fibroids may also lead to complications during pregnancy for both the mother and child, increasing the risk of miscarriage and can cause problems during labour.
What causes Fibroids?
Fibroids become more common as women get older, until they reach the age where they go through the menopause.
There seems to be a large increase in the number of fibroids diagnosed in women in their 40s.
This does not necessarily mean that fibroids are more common in women in their 40s, but rather that existing fibroids could start to grow quicker or symptoms could become more obvious.
NUMBER OF CHILDREN
Women who have given birth have a lower risk of developing fibroids than those who have had no children.
This risk becomes lower as a woman has more children and also if there are shorter gaps between each birth.
Having children could lower the risk of fibroids because pregnancy limits the time a woman is exposed to high levels of a specific hormone called oestrogen.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE OR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
Women with high blood pressure or a risk of heart disease have a higher likelihood of developing fibroids.
One study showed that high blood pressure is linked to a higher risk of developing fibroids, even when medical care and treatment with blood pressure medications was taken into account.
Women who have gone through the menopause have a lower risk of developing fibroids.
Existing fibroids tend to shrink in postmenopausal women because oestrogen levels in the body are very low, and when deprived of oestrogen, fibroids shrink.
The development of fibroids appears to be more common if there is a family history; women with fibroids are more likely to have a close female family member, such as a sister or mother, with the same condition compared to women without fibroids.
There is a higher risk of fibroids in overweight women and the risk seems to increase consistently the more overweight a woman is. This could be due to hormone changes associated with obesity.
Fibroids are 2-3 times more common in Afro-Caribbean origin women and tend to be larger, more numerous and develop at an earlier age.
Women with active lifestyles who get plenty of exercise have a reduced risk of developing fibroids.
One study showed that the risk could be reduced by as much as 40%.
AGE OF FIRST PERIOD
The age of the first period varies greatly depending on regions, race, genetic factors, etc, but a rough average age is 13 years. There is a slightly higher risk of developing fibroids if the first period happened at an early age.
Women who were 10 years old or younger when they had their first period have a higher risk of fibroids when compared with women who were 12 years old at the time of their first period. Women whose periods began at age 16 or older have a lower risk of developing fibroids.
The early onset of periods can slightly increase the risk of developing fibroids because the womb (uterus) wall (the myometrium) goes through more changes; called cell divisions, increasing the chance of an error being introduced into the process of cell divisions.
Why do Fibroids develop?
There is no single reason why fibroids develop. Several factors can contribute to their development but we know that chemical signals within the body, called hormones, and family history have a great influence on fibroid growth.
In order to understand why fibroids occur, it is helpful to understand how hormones are produced and how they act.
Discover video testimonials
After Bridget admitting herself to A&E in desperation and subsequently being referred to a gynaecologist, it was revealed that Bridget…
Rachel Richardson suffered from severe uterine fibroids for many years and was told she was unlikely to ever have children…
Steph Gandy has spoken of how she has returned to the Great Britain women’s basketball team after almost dying on…
The Voice Newspaper covers Bridget Taylors Story – a lady who had multiple fibroids, one the size of sixth month…