Are you suffering with excessively heavy and painful periods? There are several possible medical causes for next-level bleeding and fibroids could be one explanation. Fibroids are common and don’t always cause a problem, but if you’re unsure what they even are, and want to learn more about the symptoms, we chatted to Miss Shirin Irani, Consultant Gynaecologist at Spire Parkway Hospital to get the lowdown.
What are fibroids?
“Fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths made of muscle and fibrous tissue in the uterus,” says Miss Irini. They most commonly lie in the wall of the uterus but may protrude either outside the uterus or into the cavity of the uterus. Women who've had children have a lower risk of developing them – with the risk decreasing with more children. It is thought that obesity can increase the occurrence of fibroids because being overweight increases the level of oestrogen in the body.
How common are they?
“Very! It is estimated that up to 20-35% of women have them in various sizes, numbers and locations,” say Miss Irini. The number of women who have them increases with age, and they also develop more frequently in women of African-Caribbean origin.
What are the symptoms of fibroids?
Often, women can have fibroids and not be aware of them until they are picked up by a routine scan for something else. Miss Irani explains that any symptoms will be determined by the location, size and amount a woman has. “Commonly, symptoms can include painful periods with heavy bleeding, a feeling of fullness in the tummy, and also low backache and/or the need to go to the toilet if they press on the bowel at the back, or the bladder in the front,” she says.
How are they treated?
Miss Irini advises that treatment will be decided depending on the size of the fibroids – they can range from the size of a pea, which will often not cause any symptoms so can be left, to as large as a melon, which will cause more severe symptoms and need treatment. The importance of keeping fertility options open is also a consideration. She says: “Medication to shrink the fibroids and manage bleeding, surgery to remove them with either keyhole or open surgery (myomectomy), blocking the blood supply by uterine artery embolization, or a complete hysterectomy, are some of the treatment options available for women. Chat to your GP if you are suffering with any symptoms that you believe could be fibroids – they can refer you for a scan to confirm diagnosis and a possible treatment plan if needed.