Fibroids are non-cancerous growths in the womb. Affecting up to 20 percent of women, uterine fibroids are most common in women who are between the age of 30 and menopause. This condition sometimes runs in families.
A fibroid is similar to a pale rubber ball. Some are not perfectly round, but all are composed of a tough bundle of cells forming a hard mass. Fibroids begin as a single womb cell that abnormally divides.
Whether the fibroid is large or small, or on top of the uterine wall muscle or within it, they can go completely unnoticed. Fibroids which are large (some can be as large as a seven-month fetus) can lead to long, heavy periods or bleeding between periods. This condition is due to the fibroids increasing the surface area of the womb lining, giving the body more lining to shed.
Some women experience pain in the pelvis or lower back, often occurring during intercourse or a period. Other women will have no symptoms at all of the presence of fibroids. Many women do not discover the fibroids until they seek help for difficulty in becoming pregnant, only to find fibroids are the cause. Fibroids are known to affect fertility by enlarging and distorting the womb, making it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant.
Causes of Fibroids
While the definitive cause of fibroids is not clear, it is known that excess estrogen causes the fibroids to become larger. Women who are overweight are more prone to fibroids, as fat cells manufacture estrogen.
Women who have heavy bleeding or any of the other symptoms listed above should contact a physician to investigate the possibility of fibroids in the uterus. Other symptoms can include a swollen abdomen, suffering from constipation or frequent need to urinate.
The health care practitioner will perform a pelvic exam. If fibroids are present, an abdominal or vaginal ultrasound can establish the location and size of the growths.
In some cases, little or no treatment is required. If the fibroids are large or causing unwanted symptoms (such as constipation or menorrhagia), or if they are pressing on the bladder of causing infertility, a doctor can be called upon to recommend treatment. A gynecologist should be seen before beginning a medication for this condition to ensure the most appropriate treatment is pursued.
Drugs which interrupt the normal hormonal cycle can be taken, thus reducing estrogen levels in the body. However, these medications are only effective while they are being taken and can cause irritability, headaches and nausea.
Myomectomy is an operation to remove the fibroids. The size of the growths and their position in the womb will help a doctor to determine how the surgery should be performed. If the fibroids are growing on the inside of the womb, a surgery using lasers can be performed. If the fibroids are outside the womb, an abdominal myomectomy is typically performed. In this case, a small incision is made in the abdomen to remove the growths. Both cases call for a general anesthetic to be given for the surgery.
The most extreme surgery for this condition is hysterectomy. In some instances, the physician may find it easier to remove the uterus than to remove the individual fibroids. However, fibroids are usually treatable by other methods.
For women who are having very heavy periods and they do not want to conceive, an endometrial ablation and resection may be a good solution. This procedure calls for a surgeon to insert a laser or heated wire into the womb cavity to destroy the tissue of the womb’s lining. The treatment is irreversible and will prevent a fertilized egg from ever becoming implanted in the womb.
Some new treatments may also be available, including laser ablation that destroys the center of the fibroid. This constricts blood flow to the growth, causing it to shrink and die. Another treatment (called uterine artery embolization) injects small particles into certain arteries going into the womb in order to “starve” the fibroid of its blood supply, again shrinking the growth. However, there is some risk of infection with this procedure.
Natural solutions for uterine fibroids include consuming a diet which helps control the growth of the fibroids and to reduce the symptoms. These dietary changes include:
- Avoiding caffeine and limiting bad fat. Caffeine serves to increase menstrual flow and many times will worsen the symptoms of uterine fibroids. One study showed that caffeine increased the likelihood of mice developing fibroids. Saturated fats (typically found in meat and dairy products) block the body’s ability to absorb essential fats, which is necessary for combating fibroids.
- Boosting fiber – A fiber-rich diet is important as it helps to eliminate unwanted estrogen from the body. Good sources of fiber include oats, rye, brown rice, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Increasing levels of phytoestrogen – Foods rich in phytoestrogen increase the body’s production of a protein called sex-hormone-binding globulin, or SHBC. This substance controls how much estrogen is in the bloodstream.
- Loving the liver – Avoid anything that compromises liver function. This includes alcohol, tobacco, and drugs (including ibuprofen and paracetamol). The liver needs to function correctly to clear out old estrogen.
- Buying organic – Organic produce does not contain the pesticides found on some fruits and vegetables, which contain xenoestrogens. These agents can stimulate fibroid growth.
- Using herbs – Herbs which help reduce excess estrogen in the body include milk thistle and agnus cactus.
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