What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids go by many intimidating names: Leiomyomas, Myomas, Uterine Myomas or Fibromas, but all of them refer to the same thing. So, what are they exactly? What do they do? And should you be worried? Find out more here…
Basically, uterine fibroids are benign growths of the muscle tissue in and around the womb. That means they don’t cause cancer and are usually nothing to worry about.
Almost 80% of all women will develop either one or more uterine fibroids at some point in their lifetime.  What is also very common is to live with fibroids without even realizing it. However, depending on the type, size, number, and location, they can cause symptoms such as heavy bleeding and long periods , pelvic pain , frequent urge to pee, or constipation .  The good news is, on the odd occasions where fibroids do cause symptoms, there are ways to treat them!
Learning more about uterine fibroids can help you figure out if you might have any, so that you can seek professional help in good time. Let’s take a look at what types exist, what causes them, and what treatments are out there to help you tackle the symptoms.
Types of uterine fibroids
These fibroids develop when a muscle cell in the uterus clones itself and expands. They start small and can grow into various shapes and sizes unless treated – one can be smaller than a seed or bigger than a grapefruit. Fibroids are named depending on their location in the uterus, as they can grow outside (Subserosal), within the wall tissue (Intramural), or on the inside (Submucosal).
Every individual is unique and therefore fibroids may grow in different places and in various numbers in our uterus. If you do suspect that you might have them, there is no harm in looking for professional help and getting a check-up.
What causes uterine fibroids?
Although there is no solid evidence that proves exactly what causes them, research indicates that hormones, genetics, and diet could play a major role in the growth of uterine fibroids. 
Hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone are known to have a big influence on the growth of uterine fibroids. According to what hormonal phase of the menstrual cycle you are in, fibroids can also increase or decrease in size due to dips and spikes in oestrogen and progesterone. Since these hormones are produced by the ovaries during the cycle, fibroids tend to shrink after menopause. 
Some people are more likely to develop fibroids than others and genetics may be the reason why. If your grandmother, mother, or sister have a history of getting uterine fibroids, there is a higher chance that you might develop them as well.
What we eat may also play a major role in the growth of uterine fibroids. For example, consuming foods that contain plant-based oestrogen such as tofu and soy products, eating a lot of red meat, drinking a large amount of alcohol, and not having enough fruits and vegetables could all be contributing factors.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Symptoms differ from person to person. While some of us may never experience any signs (and only discover fibroids during a visit to the doctor), others may have difficulty living with them. Common symptoms include:
- Pelvic pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, which can lead to anaemia or the need for a blood transfusion
- Pressure on the bladder, causing you to pee more often than usual
- Pressure on the rectum, causing constipation and back pain
If you do experience any of these symptoms, it may be a good idea to contact your doctor. Chances are they’ll be able to spot anything concerning early on and advise you on a tailored treatment plan, allowing you to better manage your symptoms and live fearlessly.
What does fibroid pain feel like?
Living with uterine fibroids can feel like having a very bad period, with painful cramps , and stomach or lower back ache. Because it can be difficult to tell if the pain you experience is directly related to fibroids, it’s always a good idea to check with a doctor.
Fibroids and heavy bleeding: what can I do?
Dealing with heavy menstrual bleeding can be quite a nerve-wracking experience. As this is one of the common symptoms of uterine fibroids, remember that you are not alone and there are many ways to help manage it.
From high absorbency pads and tampons to period pants and menstrual cups, various intimate care products exist to suit your needs and help you feel better protected. Setting up an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget to change your product can also help keep up with all that flow.
Do fibroids affect fertility or pregnancy?
Although finding out you have uterine fibroids might seem alarming, don’t worry, only in very rare cases, are they known to have caused severe fertility or pregnancy problems.
If you do show symptoms of uterine fibroids, speak to your doctor or midwife as there are ways to navigate around them through fertility treatments and surgeries if necessary.
Sharing your thoughts and fears with your partner, loved ones, family and friends can also help to ease any anxiety you might be feeling; try to remind yourself that fibroids are very common and can be treated.
Fibroids after menopause
Going through menopause is as natural a process as getting our menstrual cycle in the first place. And despite having a bit of a reputation, it comes with its benefits. Uterine fibroids need hormones to grow, namely oestrogen and progesterone. After menopause, our bodies dramatically decrease the production of these hormones, thus reducing the risk of developing new fibroids. Any pre-existing uterine fibroids also tend to shrink in size and cause fewer symptoms.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for uterine fibroids as everyone’s body is unique. If your fibroids do not cause any symptoms, treatment may not even be necessary. But if they do give you a hard time, there are various options that you can discuss with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.
Certain medications like anti-inflammatory drugs and hormonal contraceptive pills can help you deal with the symptoms of uterine fibroids such as painful cramps, heavy bleeding, and stomach aches. Medications to shrink the fibroids are also available, however, note that they do not help to remove them completely.
Treating uterine fibroids surgically depends on various factors such as the type, size, number, and the symptoms they’re causing. In many cases, surgery might not be necessary. But if a medical professional advises it, particularly if fibroids do get in the way of becoming pregnant, they can be treated by a minimal invasive procedure known as myomectomy. This kind of surgery gets rid of the fibroids while keeping the uterus and other reproductive organs intact. In very rare and severe occasions where a myomectomy is unsuccessful, a hysterectomy might be performed, where the uterus is removed completely.
Living with fibroids can seem like a daunting, and a lonely experience but it doesn’t have to be. Sharing your feelings might help you find some comfort and support, so consider speaking to your doctor, loved ones, or even groups of women+ dealing with similar experiences. Remember that there are many solutions out there and reaching out for help can lead you to exactly what you need to better navigate living with uterine fibroids.
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.
 Sommer EM, Balkwill A, Reeves G, Green J, Beral DV, Coffey K; Million Women Study Collaborators. Effects of obesity and hormone therapy on surgically-confirmed fibroids in postmenopausal women. Eur J Epidemiol. 2015 Jun;30(6):493-9.