For the majority of a woman's reproductive life, the menstrual cycle occurs in approximate 28-day cycles, with bleeding known as a period taking place for two to five of those days. The regularity of this cycle is closely linked with well-being, and irregular menstruation is often symptomatic of abnormal activity in the body. Such activity might include uterine leiomyomata, better known as uterine fibroids. Around 40% of women will experience fibroids at some point in their life, and - while symptoms are rare - irregular menstrual bleeding can be indicative of the condition.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (i.e., non-cancerous) tumors that grow in and around the wall of the uterus. Fibroids are made of muscle cells and other tissues that can be as small as an apple seed or as large as a grapefruit. There are three types of fibroids: intramural, subserosal, and submucosal; these are identified by their size and where in the uterus they grow.
Who Is Susceptible to Fibroids?
Though very little is understood about what causes uterine fibroids, it is thought that they occur principally in women of a childbearing age (i.e., between the ages of 16 - 50), particularly those in their thirties and forties. Fibroids are also three times more common in African-American women than any other race, and women who are overweight or obese are more prone to fibroids than those of a healthy weight.
How Do Fibroids Affect Periods?
Though it is uncommon for a woman to experience symptoms if she has uterine fibroids, the symptoms that do occur are often difficult to deal with. Fibroids can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, with blood loss to the point that anemia might occur. Unpredictable bleeding between periods and painful cramping in the abdomen and lower back are also symptoms.
What Are the Other Symptoms of Fibroids?
Pain during sex, a feeling of "fullness" in the lower abdomen, urinating often, constipation, and reproductive problems - such as infertility, multiple miscarriages, and early labor - are also symptomatic of uterine fibroids. If you experience any number of these symptoms, it is important to see your physician, as you may have fertility-affecting fibroids or another gynecological disorder.
How Are Fibroids Diagnosed?
The rarity of symptoms in those with uterine fibroids mean they are often diagnosed by chance during a gynecological exam or imaging tests. If your doctor has reason to believe you have fibroids, you may be referred for an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis.
What Are the Treatment Options?
In the absence of symptoms, treating uterine fibroids is usually unnecessary. Often, fibroids shrink or stop growing naturally when a woman has gone through menopause and estrogen levels decline. Bothersome fibroid symptoms are dealt with on a case-specific basis; for example, infertility treatments are used to when fibroids cause problems conceiving. Similarly, the heavy, irregular periods that might result from fibroids can be treated with natural remedies for painful menstruation. In extreme cases where the symptoms are debilitating, surgery is an option.
Fibroids are not dangerous, nor are they cancerous; it is only when the symptoms affect your well-being that it's advisable to seek treatment. When heavy, irregular bleeding begins to impact your life, it is time to find a solution. Look for natural relief from painful periods and be prepared for them; carry a supply of sanitary wear in your handbag to avoid being caught unaware by unexpected bleeding.