If you’ve had a recent fibroid diagnosis, you’re not alone. Far from it – it’s estimated that 4 out of 10 Australian women over the age of 40 have fibroids. That number increases with age, with as many as 70% of women developing them in their 50s and beyond.
Many women with fibroids aren’t even aware they have them, while others experience symptoms such as heavy periods or discomfort during sex.
Fortunately, effective solutions exist for treating problematic fibroids. In this article, we’ll explore what fibroids are, and what you can do about them.
What are fibroids?
Also known as myomas, fibroids are growths or non-cancerous tumours that form inside the uterus. They can form singularly or in groups, and can also vary in size from that of a seedling right up to the size of a rockmelon.
Fibroids are categorised by their location:
Intramural – growing in the uterus wall
Submucosal – growing in the uterus lining
Subserosal – growing outside of the uterine wall
It is not known what causes fibroids, however it is thought that their development is related to oestrogen and progesterone production. They are rarely seen in pre-pubescent girls, and can sometimes shrink in post-menopausal women.
Common symptoms caused by fibroids
Most women with fibroids don’t experience symptoms, and they’re only discovered during a routine procedure for another condition.
Other women can experience the following symptoms:
- Heavy, long and painful periods
- Painful sex
- Regular spotting between periods
- Heaviness or pressure in the back, bladder or bowel
- Urinary problems including the need to urinate often
- Swelling or a lump in the abdomen
- Anaemia (due to excessive menstrual blood loss)
If you notice any of the above symptoms, our caring gynaecologists at Northside Gynaecology can help identify the issue and recommend a treatment plan for you.
Occasionally, fibroids can cause complications with fertility by interfering with the implantation of a fertilised egg. In pregnant women, fibroids can restrict blood flow to the placenta, which can result in miscarriage or premature delivery. They can also obstruct the baby’s journey down the birth canal, increasing the need for a caesarean section when in labour.
It is possible for fibroids to become cancerous; however it is a very rare occurrence.
How are fibroids diagnosed?
Your gynaecologist will first perform a pelvic exam to feel for irregularities in the shape of your uterus which may suggest the presence of fibroids. If further confirmation is needed, an ultrasound may be used to get a picture of your uterus and create a map of your fibroid’s location and shape.
A blood test may also be required if you experience abnormal blood loss during menstruation, to investigate potential causes and determine if you are anaemic.
Other potential tests include:
Hysteroscopy – Inserting a small lighted telescope into your uterus through your cervix to examine the cavity. This procedure is done under general anaesthesia.
Laparoscopy – Inserting a thin telescope through a small cut in the navel to look at organs such as the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. This procedure is also performed under general anaesthesia.
Hysterosalpingography – Using an X-ray and special dye that highlights the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes. This procedure may be recommended if fertility is an issue, as it also indicates whether the fallopian tubes are obstructed.
Treatment options for fibroids
Treatment for fibroids varies depending on the size, location and number of fibroids present and fertility goals of the person. If fibroids aren’t causing any issues, they are usually just monitored. However, there are a number of treatment options for fibroids that are causing problematic symptoms.
If medications aren’t helping to reduce the size and symptoms of your fibroids, removal may be recommended, particularly if you’re intending to conceive.
At Northside Gynaecology, we offer a minimally invasive procedure called a laparoscopic or hysteroscopic myomectomy to remove fibroids. As opposed to traditional methods of fibroid removal such as open surgery or hysterectomy, the procedure is performed as an out-patient under general anaesthesia.
During a laparoscopic myomectomy, a small incision is made in the belly button, and specialised instruments are inserted including a lighted camera. This camera allows the surgeon to view the uterine cavity on a screen. From there, the fibroid/s are located, cut into small pieces, and carefully removed through that same incision.
A laparoscopic myomectomy offers faster recovery times, less pain, and a reduced risk of infection than open surgery. Due to the minimally invasive nature of the procedure, most patients are able to leave hospital the same day, and can return to normal activity within a week.
Hysteroscopic myomectomy – day surgery, go in through the cervix and no cuts on the belly.
Where to get further advice
If you are experiencing symptoms of fibroids, or are having trouble conceiving, get in touch with us for a professional diagnosis.
Northside Gynaecology is an all-women practice offering advice, treatment and support for a wide range of gynaecological issues including fibroids. Book an appointment at one of our convenient Brisbane locations by calling us on 07 3088 9005.