By Neil Salas, MD
Uterine fibroids may affect up to 80 percent of women by the time they turn 50 years of age. Some of the symptoms associated with fibroids include pelvic pain or pressure, and heavy or prolonged bleeding – leading to anemia. Rarely, fibroids may be associated with cases of infertility. However, most women may never know that they have had fibroids.
Uterine fibroids — also known as fibroid tumors — are the most common pelvic tumor in women. The majority of fibroids are not life-threatening. They are benign tumors arising from the smooth muscle cells of the uterine muscle and can grow as small as an apple seed and as large as a grapefruit.
Fibroids can be found in up to one-fourth of women in their reproductive years and they also have been found in approximately 80 percent of hysterectomy specimens. Despite the prevalence of uterine fibroids in women, their root cause remains unknown. Thankfully, physicians have knowledge about the factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids, the symptoms that fibroids cause and have available a number of treatment options that can provide relief for affected women.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, the following factors can place a woman at higher risk for developing fibroid tumors:
Age — Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink when hormone levels drop.
Family History — Having a family member with fibroids increases a woman’s risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of developing them is three times higher than the average woman.
Ethnicity — Fibroids are two to three times greater in African-American women than Caucasian women.
Obesity — Women who are overweight have a two to three times higher risk of developing fibroids than women who are average weight.
Eating Habits — Eating a lot of red meat and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. A high consumption of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are diagnosed first through a physical exam and confirmed with medical imaging.
Fibroids that are interfering with a woman’s quality of life can be treated and managed through a variety of options. Women who have fibroids and heavy menstrual bleeding can be prescribed iron supplements to prevent anemia, as well as over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen to reduce menstrual bleeding. Women who have moderate to severe symptoms may want to discuss surgical options. These options vary according to a woman’s age and whether or not she still wishes to conceive in the near future. Surgical procedures may remove the entire uterus, just its lining, or the fibroids themselves.
Uterine fibroids are extremely common, but their effect on each woman’s life is unique. Women should know that many options are available to treat fibroids, and that these options can significantly improve their quality of life, that has otherwise been affected by the presence of fibroids.
Neil Salas, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.