What are uterine fibroids – learn from the expert Prof Bouchard
Exposed and explained: fibroids under the microscope
Gynaecologist Professor Philippe Bouchard talks about what uterine fibroids are, how to recognise symptoms, and their diagnosis.
The word ‘fibroids’ can sound very scary when you first hear it, especially if you have no idea what it means or what fibroids actually are. But fear not ladies, because uterine fibroids expert, gynaecologist and endocrinologist (hormone specialist) Professor Philippe Bouchard explains everything in this short video.
Bouchard describes fibroids as “benign [non-cancerous] tumours made of the smooth, muscular cells of the uterus [womb]”. Uterine fibroids – also sometimes called uterine myomas, fibromyomas or leiomyomas – are common and up to 40 per cent of women in Europe will experience one or more in their lifetime. So, you’re not alone and that’s an important thing to remember when you’re going through what can often feel like an isolating experience.
Uterine fibroids can occur anywhere in the womb and are named according to where they grow. There are three types, located in three different places. Intramural – which are the most common –are found in the internal wall of the womb, subserosal fibroids are found outside the wall of the womb and submucosal, which develop in the muscle layer beneath the inner lining of the womb.
They vary in size too – some can be the size of a pea and others can be as big as a melon. Fibroid size can increase or decrease with time and sometimes they even go away naturally.
So how do you know if you have fibroids? Fibroids can sometimes go unnoticed because there are no symptoms, but anyone experiencing heavy periods (menstruation), bleeding, pain during sex, tummy pain, constipation or the need to go to the loo more than usual should visit their physician or gynaecologist as soon as possible.
Where symptoms so occur, they depend on the location and size of the tumour. If they’re outside the womb then other organs such as the bladder could be impacted, which can be terribly painful, while if they’re inside then heavy bleeding tends to occur. Heavy blood loss means you have fewer red blood cells and less haemoglobin, which can lead to anaemia and extreme tiredness.
According to Prof Bouchard, most cases of uterine fibroids are easy to diagnose and any woman presenting to a gynaecologist with any of these symptoms will be given an ultrasound as part of a routine consultation. “Ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging technique that allows the practitioner to locate the fibroid precisely and measure it,” he says. “If better imaging is need, an MRI may be given as it offers perfect visibility of the tumour and its relationship with adjacent organs. For submucosal fibroids, a hysteroscopy can be carried out, where a tube is inserted into the uterine cavity and the lesions examined.”
Prof Bouchard adds: “The repercussions on the quality of life can be enormous, especially if there’s heavy bleeding and if the fibroid is big. If a woman is bleeding every day for weeks or months, she obviously cannot have a normal life.” But he emphasises too that there are plentiful options for treatment and it’s the role of the physician to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for women suffering uterine fibroids.