One of the more common causes of fertility issues for many women is uterine fibroid tumors. These tumors are noncancerous growths that appear during the childbearing years of a woman's life. They are seldom, if ever, associated with an increased risk for uterine cancer and do not grow into a malignancy.
Most Women Don't Even Know They Are There
Since most women never suffer with symptoms of uterine fibroids, they are often unaware of them, even though as many as three out of four women actually have them. If they are discovered, it is usually during a pelvic examination in the gynecologist's office. Since they usually are not problematic, they seldom need to be treated and they rarely cause problems. If they need to be removed, they can be taken care of with effective medical therapy or a surgical procedure.
If there are signs of fibroids, they present with heavy bleeding during menstruation, or extra long periods. Sometimes there is bleeding between periods. Pain or pressure in the pelvic area may be experienced along with constipation and urinary problems. It is unusual for fibroids to cause serious pain. Once a fibroid is cut off from its blood supply it will begin to die. However, in the process, it can cause temporary acute pain in some cases.
The Four Primary Types Of Fibroids
There are four primary types of uterine fibroids that are categorized according to where they grow in the uterus. The subserosal uterine fibroid develops in the outer part of the uterus and continues its growth pattern in that direction. Intramural fibroids, which are the most common type of tumor, develop inside the uterine wall and continue to grow into the uterus. This causes the uterus to feel larger than it is. Submucosal uterine fibroids grow just under the lining of the uterine cavity. These are the culprits of heavy menstrual bleeding, infertility, and miscarriage. A pedunculated fibroid grows on a stalk that connects it to the wall of the uterus-whether inside or outside.
What Causes Fibroid Tumors?
The exact cause of uterine fibroids remains a mystery. What is known is that they develop from the myometrium, the smooth, muscular, tissue of the uterus. A single cell reproduces over and over again, piling upon itself, until a mass is produced that is separate and different from the surrounding tissues. A fibroid can be as tiny as a seed that is undetectable except under a microscope, to a huge, bulky mass that causes the uterus to expand and stretch.
Research and information gained through clinical experience point to several factors which may be contributors to uterine fibroids. Genetic alterations in genes can cause a growth of pseudo-uterine muscles cells. Estrogen and progesterone, the two important hormones that cause production of the endometrium (uterine lining), can also cause growth of fibroids. When examined, fibroid tumors have more estrogen and estrogen receptors than normal uterine cells. Finally, chemicals the body normally uses to maintain tissue development, such as insulin growth factor, may cause uterine fibroids to grow.
There are very few risk factors that are known to be implicated in the development and growth of uterine fibroids. If they are in the family history, that is if a sister or mother has had them, then a woman may be predisposed to them. It is also known that Black women tend toward having fibroids at a younger age and more frequently than other races. Research into other factors has been inconclusive outside of the suggestion that obese women tend to be more at risk for developing fibroids.