Fibroids are small growths that develop in the uterus. They are not cancerous and may vary in size. They appear pinkish in color and can grow in any part of the uterus. Most women develop groups of two to three fibroids. Fibroids grow from the muscle cells present in the uterus. They can give rise to symptoms such as pelvic pain and pressure. They may also affect a womans fertility. The different types of fibroids are as follows:
- Intramural fibroids are highly common and develop within the wall of the uterus.
- Submucosal fibroids extend into the uterine cavity.
- Pedunculated fibroids are connected to the uterus by a stalk similar to a plant stem.
- Intraligamentous fibroids develop within the tissue that keeps the uterus in its place.
Symptoms of Fibroids
Most cases of fibroids do not lead to any symptoms. In cases where symptoms of fibroids occur, they tend to occur in women in their thirties and forties and are accompanied by an increase in perimenopausal symptoms. Fibroids are usually small in size but they can become large. The severity of the symptoms depends on the number, size and location of the fibroids. The common signs of fibroids include:
- Intramural and submucosal fibroids can lead to abnormal menstrual bleeding. In some cases, severe anemia may also occur. There may be a gushing blood flow or passage of blood clots. The bleeding may also take place between menstrual periods.
- Fibroids usually lead to pelvic pain and cramping.
- Fibroids can cause displacement of the surrounding structures and this may lead to a sensation of heaviness. The nerves in the lower body may also get compressed.
- Fibroids which start growing in size can cause the uterus to move above the pelvic bone. This leads to a distortion or enlargement of the abdomen.
- Due to compression of the bladder, there may be frequent urination or stress incontinence. This can cause the bladder to leak when there is strain. The outlet of the bladder may also get obstructed. In rare cases, the ureter which connects the bladder and kidney may get compressed and hamper kidney function.
- The rectum may get compressed and this leads to bloating or constipation.
- Fibroids which cause distortion of the vagina may lead to pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse.
- Fibroids can affect fertility and lead to miscarriages, premature labor and complications during labor. Research indicates that these problems may occur when there is distortion of the uterine cavity due to the fibroids. The fallopian tubes or cervix can get blocked. Submucosal fibroids may hamper the process of implantation of the egg.
Causes of Fibroids
Uterine fibroids grow from the myometrium or muscular tissue of the uterus. A cell may undergo repeated reproduction and lead to the formation of a rubbery, firm lump. Some fibroids may undergo continuous growth while others may stay the same size. Some fibroids also reduce in size over a period of time. A fibroid may sometimes be so tiny that is cannot be detected by the human eye. But some fibroids may grow to such an extent that they cause the uterus to enlarge. The exact causes of uterine fibroids are unknown, but the follow factors may be involved:
- Fibroids may have genetic alterations that are not present in normal cells of the uterine muscular tissue.
- The hormones, estrogen and progesterone which trigger the formation of the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle seem to stimulate the growth of fibroids. There are estrogen and progesterone receptors found in fibroids which are not found in normal uterine cells.
- Fibroids may grow due to certain substances that aid in the maintenance of body tissues.
There are certain factors that can increase a womans risk of developing uterine fibroids. These include:
- Being of reproductive age
- Family history of uterine fibroids
- African women are found to be more susceptible to developing uterine fibroids. These women may also develop larger fibroids and at a younger age.
Pregnant women and women who have just given birth seem to be at a lower risk of developing uterine fibroids.
Remedies for Fibroids
Treatment for fibroids involves many different options. In case there are no symptoms of fibroids, the best approach is to wait and keep a lookout for any signs. Uterine fibroids are benign and do not usually hamper pregnancy. They also tend to reduce in size after menopause when the levels of estrogen drop. Medications may be given for uterine fibroids which interfere with the menstrual cycle. These medications help to treat symptoms such as pelvic pain and heavy bleeding. They cause the fibroids to shrink in size. A permanent solution for uterine fibroids is a hysterectomy in which the uterus is removed. This is a major procedure and one cannot bear children after the surgery. Some women may also elect for removal of the ovaries which also triggers menopause. Fibroid removal may also be done through a myomectomy. However, there are some risks involved such as excessive blood loss and adhesions or scarring in the uterine cavity. The procedure also does not eliminate the risk of developing fibroids in the future.
Natural remedies for fibroids include the following:
- Warm up some castor oil and apply to the abdominal region. This will help to alleviate pelvic pain and cramping.
- Lavender essential oil is known to relieve fibroid pain and also promote better blood flow. Use a few drops of the essential oil to massage the abdomen.
- Make sure that you drink lots of fluids such as water and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Drink at least a couple of liters of water every day. Avoid coffee, black tea, red wine and carbonated drinks.
- To treat painful cramps, run a bath of warm water and soak in it for about thirty minutes. This will help to soothe the discomfort. You can also use warm compresses such as a heating pad or a hot water bottle. Place the compress over the lower part of the abdomen.
- Avoid foods that are rich in fats and sugar. Also avoid consuming red meat, food containing additives and processed foods.
- Fiber helps to soak the excess amounts of estrogen in the body. Include foods that are high in fiber in your diet. Such foods include whole grain bread, brown rice, bran flakes and oats.
- Use sanitary napkins instead of tampons during menstruation.
- Certain herbs are beneficial in treating symptoms of uterine fibroids. Dandelion helps to balance the hormonal levels and also encourage the fibroids to shrink in size. This herb is available in the form of capsules. Milk thistle is also helpful in fibroid treatment. It helps to regulate the levels of estrogen in the body and thus promote shrinking of uterine fibroids.
- Consult your doctor regarding the intake of iron supplements if you experience heavy blood flow due to fibroids.
Diet for Fibroids
A special diet for fibroids may help to alleviate symptoms and cause the fibroids to shrink. Here are some helpful dietary tips:
- Plant based foods are low in fat and help to bring down the estrogen levels. Fiber is also a beneficial nutrient because it adheres to the estrogen in the digestive tract and promotes faster elimination of the hormone. You can obtain fiber from foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. Avoid eating foods that are high in fat such as meat and whole milk products as they can cause the estrogen to re-enter the bloodstream and trigger further growth of fibroids.
- Soybeans are among the healthiest of plant-based foods. They are known for their ability to reduce estrogen levels. They contain compounds which take up the spaces in the cells where estrogen usually enters. These compounds are also present in other soy foods such as soy milk and tofu.
- Other types of legumes are also known to restrict growth of uterine fibroids. These include pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans, split peas, fava beans and black beans. Some of these beans contain the same fibroid-fighting compounds present in soybeans.
- Bean sprouts contain high amounts of phytoesterogens. These phytoesterogen levels rise as the beans germinate. It is a good idea to include sprouts to your daily meals.
- Fish may also help in shrinking fibroids. You can consume cold water fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon. These fish possess anti-inflammatory properties which help in alleviating the signs and symptoms of uterine fibroids.
Suggestions for Fibroids
Regular exercise is beneficial for everyone, but is especially helpful for those with uterine fibroids. Moderate exercise done regularly helps to bring down the estrogen levels and this helps to reduce the size of the fibroids. Exercise also triggers the release of certain compounds in the body which help to alleviate pain and elevate mood. Besides, exercising regularly helps to maintain healthy body weight. Women who are overweight also have higher estrogen levels and this can increase the risk of developing uterine fibroids.
- Aviva Romm, Isla Burgess, David Winston, Suzanna M. Zick, Amanda McQuade Crawford, CHAPTER 7 - Conditions of the Reproductive Organs, Botanical Medicine for Women's Health, Churchill Livingstone, Saint Louis, 2010, Pages 211-255, ISBN 9780443072772, 10.1016/B978-0-443-07277-2.00009-X.
Fibroids - Frequently asked questions