Uterine fibroids are lumps that grow on your uterus. You can have fibroids on the inside, on the outside, or in the wall of your uterus. Dr. Potgieter may call them fibroid tumors, leiomyomas, or myomas. But fibroids are not cancer. You do not need to do anything about them unless they are causing problems. Fibroids are very common in women in their 30s and 40s, but do not typically cause problems. Most women do not even know that they have fibroids.
Doctors are not sure what causes fibroids. But the female hormones estrogen and progesterone seem to make them grow. Your body makes the highest levels of these hormones during the years when you have periods. Your body makes less of these hormones after you stop having periods (menopause), so fibroids typically shrink after menopause and stop causing symptoms.
Often fibroids do not cause symptoms. Or the symptoms may be mild, like periods that are a little heavier than normal. If the fibroids bleed or press on your organs, the symptoms may make it hard for you to enjoy life. Fibroids make some women have:
- Long, gushing periods and cramping.
- Fullness or pressure in their belly.
- Low back pain.
- Pain during sex.
- An urge to urinate often.
- Heavy bleeding during your periods can lead to anemia. Anemia can make you feel weak and tired.
Sometimes fibroids can also make it harder to get pregnant.
To find out if you have fibroids, Dr. Potgieter will ask you about your symptoms. He will do a pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus and he may send you to have an ultrasound. These tests help Dr. Potgieter see how large your fibroids are and where they are growing. In addition, he may require blood tests to check for anemia and other side effects of fibroids.
If your fibroids are not bothering you, you do not need to do anything about them. Dr. Potgieter will check them during your regular visits to see if they have gotten bigger. If your main symptoms are pain and heavy bleeding, try an over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen, and ask Dr. Potgieter about birth control pills. These can help you feel better and make your periods lighter. If you have anemia, take iron pills and eat foods that are high in iron, like meats, beans, and leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach.
If you are near menopause, you might try medication to treat your symptoms. Heavy periods will stop after menopause.
There are a number of other ways to treat fibroids. One treatment is called uterine fibroid embolization. It can shrink fibroids. It may be a choice if you do not plan to have children but want to keep your uterus.
If your symptoms bother you a lot, you may want to think about surgery. Most of the time fibroids grow slowly, so you can take time to consider your choices.
There are two main types of surgery for fibroids. Which is better for you depends on your age, how big your fibroids are, where they are, and whether you want to have children.
Surgery to take out the fibroids is called myomectomy. Dr. Potgieter may suggest it if you hope to get pregnant or just want to keep your uterus. It may improve your chances of having a baby. But it does not always work, and fibroids may grow back.
Surgery to take out your uterus is called a hysterectomy. It is the only way to make sure that fibroids will not come back. Your symptoms will go away, but you will not be able to get pregnant so it us a last resort in fibroid treatment.