It’s estimated that between 50 and 75 percent of women of childbearing age either have or will develop uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow in or on the uterus. Medical experts don’t know what causes uterine fibroids, but there are several potential factors involved.
Causes of Uterine Fibroids
- Hormonal Influence – The hormones produced by the ovaries – progesterone and estrogen – appear to influence the growth of uterine fibroids. It’s believed that because these hormones stimulate the regeneration of the uterine lining with every menstrual cycle, they may also cause fibroids to develop or enlarge.
- Genetics – There is significant evidence that genetics play a role in a woman’s risk of suffering from uterine fibroids. Those who have a sister, grandmother or mother with fibroids are more likely to develop fibroids themselves.
- Pregnancy – With pregnancy comes a dramatic increase in estrogen and progesterone levels. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for uterine fibroids to grow quickly during pregnancy.
- Other Factors – Certain other factors are also known to increase a woman’s chances of having uterine fibroids. These include being African-American, overweight or over the age of 30.
What Are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids do not cause symptoms in most women. However, those who do exhibit symptoms may experience:
- Excessively heavy periods
- Abnormally long periods, often lasting seven days or more
- Pain or feelings of pressure in the pelvic region
- Frequent urges to urinate, which may be accompanied by difficulty
- Otherwise unexplained constipation
- Leg or lower back pains
In rare cases, a fibroid can outgrow its blood supply, which results in acute pain. Because it can no longer obtain the needed oxygen and nutrients, the growth starts to die. Byproducts of this tissue breakdown can affect nearby healthy tissue, causing pain, and in rare cases, fever. If a fibroid is attached to the uterine wall by a stalk, it may become twisted. In this case, the fibroid loses its blood supply, and pain may occur.
The number, location and size of fibroids often determines the symptoms associated with them:
- Submucosal: These fibroids extend into the uterine cavity and tend to cause long periods accompanied by heavy bleeding. These can make becoming pregnant difficult.
- Subserosal: This type of fibroid affects the exterior of the uterus, and in some cases, may put pressure on the bladder, resulting in frequent urges to urinate. When these develop in the back of the uterus, they may push against the rectum or spinal nerves, causing feelings or lower back pain.
- Intramural: Intramural fibroids develop inside of the uterine muscle tissue. When they grow large enough, they warp the uterus’ natural shape. This results in long periods, excessive bleeding, pain and feelings of pressure.
Uterine fibroids aren’t typically problematic. However, in rare instances, they can prove dangerous. If you experience sudden, sharp pain in your pelvic region or severe vaginal bleeding, contact Dr. Sherry Thomas. As a world-renowned urogynecologist, Dr. Sherry can work with you to determine the most appropriate treatment for your needs.