Fibroids, which are also known as leiomyomas, are non-cancerous tumors, or growths, that appear on the walls of the uterus. It’s unknown why they occur, but fibroids affect at least 20 percent of all women during their lifetime, with occurrence numbers as high as 80 percent.
Fibroids are made up of the same smooth muscle fibers found in the uterine wall (myometrium), but are denser than normal myometrium. They are usually round and have no predictable growth pattern. Some are small like a seed while others can grow as large as a small melon, causing considerable discomfort. Some fibroids can increase the size of the uterus to the point that it reaches the rib cage. Fibroids are growths, but are not indicative of an increased risk of cancer. Occasionally malignant growths on the muscles inside the womb, called leiomyosarcoma, can develop.
Fibroids typically appear before pregnancy, but most women aren’t aware they have them until they’re discovered during an exam or ultrasound. Symptoms of fibroids during pregnancy include:
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pressure
- Unusually heavy vaginal bleeding
- Frequent urination
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, it’s important you let your physician know as soon as possible.
The majority of women who have fibroids during pregnancy don’t have complications. But an estimated 10 to 30 percent of pregnant women with fibroids may struggle with symptoms. While fibroids are unlikely to affect the baby, the risk of miscarriage or early delivery is slightly higher with fibroids. If the fibroids are particularly large, they can alter how the baby is positioned for delivery or obstruct the birthing process, which increases the need to have a cesarean delivery.
The most common problems for women with fibroids are:
- Breech baby – As noted, if the baby is not positioned correctly for vaginal delivery, complications could ensue.
- Cesarean section – Women with fibroids are five times more likely to give birth through C-section.
- Early delivery – Fibroids can hasten delivery.
- Slow Labor – Women with fibroids may have a longer, more painful delivery period.
- Placental abruption – This is when the placenta breaks away from the wall of the uterus before delivery. The risk of this happening is that the fetus may not get enough oxygen.
Because of an increase in hormones during pregnancy, fibroids can grow larger during that time. Alternatively, cases exist where fibroids have also shrunk. You doctor will best be able to guide you on the proper treatment. The most common treatment option is bed rest. If necessary, you may require some form of medication.
Another treatment option is Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE), which is a non-surgical, minimally invasive treatment performed by an Interventional Radiologist that shrinks the fibroids to provide relief. With UFE, a thin tube is inserted into the blood vessels that supply blood to the fibroid. Compounds are injected into the blood vessels, blocking the blood supply to the fibroid and causing it to shrink.
UFE is 90 percent effective in reducing symptoms caused by fibroids. The Interventional Radiologists of Interventional Physicians of Indiana perform this procedure at Community Hospitals North and East.