Uterine fibroids are common among women during reproductive years. Many women have fibroids, but location, growth pattern and size determine whether or not symptoms develop. Fibroid growth is not static, which means they can grow, remain stable at a given size or shrink. Growth rate also varies between patients as some fibroids grow rapidly while others grow slowly.
Causes of Fibroids
In simple terms, fibroids are caused by cellular division that eventually causes a rubbery mass – the fibroid. There is little to no information about why the cells suddenly react in this manner, but there are some contributing factors that promote fibroid development and growth.
- Genetics: The genetic makeup of fibroids is different from that of other uterine cells. Often, the cells within the fibroids show marked changes in specific genes. There also appears to be a connection between family members. A maternal or sibling history of fibroids could mean increased risk for a woman.
- Hormonal Changes: Fibroid growth is driven by estrogen and progesterone. Levels of estrogen and progesterone increase each month as the uterine lining thickens in preparation for implantation. Subsequently, the increased hormone levels tend to spark fibroid growth. Fibroid cells contain more receptors for estrogen and progesterone than other uterine cells, which could account for fluctuations in fibroid growth. After menopause, when the production of reproductive hormones decreases, fibroid growth slows or stops and fibroids shrink.
- Growth Factors: Growth factors associated with tissue growth and repair, like insulin-like growth factor, may contribute to fibroid growth.
Symptoms of Fibroids
Not all women with fibroids suffer symptoms. In some cases, fibroid growth is undetectable with diagnosis occurring after a pelvic exam or abdominal ultrasound (typically for pregnancy). The location, size and growth rate of the fibroid could affect symptoms and intensity of symptoms.
- Menstruation: Women with fibroids report increased menstrual bleeding and longer menstrual periods. Typically, menstrual periods last three to five days, but may last up to seven days for some women. Periods in excess of seven days could be a symptom of fibroids.
- Pain: Pelvic pain, and sometimes pelvic pressure, is reported by some women with fibroids. Leg pains and backache have also been reported.
- Urination: Feeling an urgent need to urinate and incomplete emptying of the bladder are two common symptoms of fibroids.
No two cases of fibroids are the same. Some women have a genetic predisposition to fibroids and others have no family history of the condition. Symptoms also vary widely among fibroid diagnosis. If you are experiencing symptoms of fibroids, especially if you have a family history of fibroids, consult your gynecologist.