Battling Fibroids – Part 1: What are they?

Image: empowermagazine.org

Although the primary focus on my maternal Monday posts have been geared to issues surrounding maternal mortality and access to resources, I think it’s important to discuss all issues pertaining to women’s maternal health including reproductive health. Many of us don’t learn all the necessary things about the function of our bodies in order to be more proactve in taking care of ourselves. 

For the month of July, I’m writing a series on uterine fibroids for my usual maternal Monday posts. The first question at hand is what are fibroids anyway?  They are noncancerous growths of the uterus.They are not associated with any risk of cancer and usually grow into firm yet rubbery masses that either grow very slowly or rapidly. They can cause a great deal of discomfort, heavy bleeding and in some cases, infertility.

The uterus and various places fibroids most commonly grow.

To get a better understanding of what they look like, take a look at the diagram above. There are different types based on where they grow. The location can also cause different issues for a woman. Fibroids that grow inside the cavity of your uterus can cause the most problems during pregnancy because the baby is now fighting for the same space to grow as the fibroid. That’s not saying the other locations are not a problem, but inside the uterus poses the most direct contact with a growing fetus. Fibroids can be as small as a seed or as large as a cantaloupe melon. Some women have ones that grow so large they look like they are pregnant.

Studies show that 30% of women get fibroids before the age of 35. The number increases to 80% of all women by age 50. Black women are more likely to have them than other groups.

Despite the fact that many women suffer from fibroids, there is still not much awareness about it. In the U.S. there are three states that have declared July as Uterine Fibroid Awareness Month; New York, Georgia, Florida and the city of New Orleans. There is currently a change.org. petition started by a fibroid advocacy group called The White Dress Project. They are asking supporters to sign the petition asking the Obama administration to declare July as a national fibroid awareness month in all states. In countries like Jamaica fibroid awareness week takes place in May and some cities like Los Angeles also have a Fibroid awareness week. 

This is one topic that was never discussed in any of the sex and health education classes in school. It seems that women don’t learn about the potential of having fibroids until they are actually diagnosed.

What causes them?  
Although doctors still have not determined the cause of fibroids, years of research seems to point to three things.

  1. Genetic changes
  2. Hormones
  3. Insulin-like growth factors

Many studies have shown genetics to play a role in having them. Women in the same family typically will have them.  Also estrogen and progesterone seem to promote growth of fibroids, which can explain why women see a reduction in fibroid growth after menopause.  

In many cases, fibroids cause no problems and a woman may not even know she has them until a doctor does an ultrasound. But for a lot of women they eventually experience problems depending on the size and location of the fibroids. The ones that grow into the uterine cavity can cause problems trying to get pregnant or carrying a baby to full term.

I personally have suffered and continue to experience the serious effects from fibroids for several years. At first I had no symptoms and eventually I experienced pain and it was an ultrasound that revealed I had five fibroids. 

Some of the symptoms women experience include heavy bleeding, severe pain from cramping, back pain, urinary issues and sometimes constipation. 

If you suspect that you may have fibroids it’s important to book an appointment with your general practitioner or gynecologist to follow up with tests to determine if you do. 

Next week, I’ll post about managing your symptoms. Do you have fibroids? I’d love to hear your story.

Sources: mayoclicic.org, ourbodiesorselves.org  

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