Friday, April 17, 2009

GynoLingo: Uterine Fibroids

Gynos too often throw around words and diagnoses quite casually. If we know that a condition isn't serious, we don't often take enough time to explain what it is and what it means. So I'm going to write a series of posts about common gyn conditions that you may hear about at your next exam, and what they mean for your gyno-health.

What fibroids are:

Uterine fibroids are benign muscle tumors that grow from the uterine wall. To break that definition down:
  • Benign. Not cancerous, and they don't turn cancerous in the future.
  • Muscle. Coming from the wall of the uterus, they have both muscle and fibrous tissue, swirled together.
  • Tumor. Just means that it's solid, and not a cyst (which is filled with fluid).
What do fibroids mean:
Fibroids may be detected on exam, ultrasound or during surgery, but most of the time you'll have no symptoms at all (the silent type). Almost 50% of women will develop a fibroid at some point, and they're even more common among African-American and Latina women. When fibroids act up, they can cause:
  • Abnormal bleeding. Periods may get heavier and longer, and sometimes cause bleeding in-between periods.
  • Pelvic pain or pressure. This ranges from bad menstrual cramps to lower back pain to generalized pressure all the time.
  • Frequent urination. Like a UTI without infection.
  • Complications during pregnancy and delivery. If they block the baby's way out.
How can you treat them:
Happily, you might not have to treat your fibroids at all. Fibroids need to get treated in only a few circumstances:
  • REALLY heavy bleeding. If you're bleeding so heavily with your periods each month that you're severely anemic or even need blood transfusions.
  • REALLY bad pain or pressure. If anti-inflammatories are enough to get you out of bed, or if you're having difficulty even walking around.
  • Other organ injury. Sometimes fibroids get so large that they press on the ureters (the long tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder), causing urine to back up and possibly causing kidney damage.
Have you been told that you have fibroids? Did you need to be treated for them?

Photo credit: National Uterine Fibroids Foundation

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