An annual exam isn’t anyone’s favorite event of the year — I get that — but it’s essential for maintaining your health and heading off problems before they become serious. So many of the health issues that affect women can be discovered at an annual exam, and that early discovery usually means easier, more effective treatment.
Fibroids are a good example. If you haven’t had personal experience with fibroids, you probably know someone who has — they’re the most common benign tumor in women.
Fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the uterus. Your health care provider can feel them when he or she checks your uterus. (An ultrasound usually follows to confirm.)
We don’t know what causes fibroids, but estrogen may play a role. Fibroids occur most often in women of reproductive age, and during menopause they tend to at least decrease in size, if not disappear.
Although they can become large, fibroids are slow-growing. They may show up in different spots within the uterus:
- Myometrial fibroids occur in the wall, or muscle, of the uterus
- Submucosal fibroids form just under the surface of the uterine lining. This type sometimes grows into the lining where the menstrual blood emerges and so can cause heavy bleeding.
- Pedunculated fibroids grow on a stalk that forms outside of the uterus.
- Subserousal fibroids occur just under the outside surface of the uterus.
Many women have fibroids without ever experiencing symptoms. In that case, fibroids usually are discovered during a pelvic exam.
If you do have symptoms, they’re likely to include:
- A feeling of abdominal fullness
- Bleeding between periods
- Urinating more frequently
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pain with intercourse
- Periods that last longer
- Bad cramping with periods
A transvaginal ultrasound will help confirm the diagnosis. (This is an ultrasound where a wand is inserted in the vagina; it provides better images for finding fibroids.)
If you have fibroids but they aren’t bothering you, then your health care provider probably will follow their growth and stability via ultrasound but not treat them. But if fibroids are causing issues, some treatment becomes necessary. The way we treat fibroids depends on several factors:
- Your age
- Your health
- How bad your symptoms are
- Type of fibroids
- Whether you’re pregnant
- Whether you want to have children in the future
Sometimes we just treat the symptoms. For example, if fibroids are causing irregular bleeding, birth control pills might be the answer.
If you’re pregnant or plan to be, fibroids can interfere and are better treated.
There are also medicines that help shrink fibroids and surgeries that treat or remove them. Procedures that treat fibroids and keep your uterus intact for pregnancy include:
- Hysteroscopy, which is a type of endoscopy that enables doctors to see and remove fibroids that are inside of the lining of the uterus. The procedure also would help stop irregular bleeding that fibroids sometimes cause.
- Uterine artery embolization stops blood flow to the fibroid and helps to shrink it. An interventional radiologist performs this.
- Myomectomy actually removes the fibroid during surgery. A gynecologist performs the surgery.
If fibroids are causing a lot of trouble and you’re finished having babies, hysterectomy — a procedure that removes your uterus — might be an option.
One in five women has fibroids. You might not even realize that you’re among them (and in many cases, fibroids don’t do harm). But if you’re having symptoms, talk to your health care provider or call 338-4HER to find out more.
If you don’t have a health care provider, we can help you find one. And we invite you to schedule a free get-acquainted visit to make sure that you have found someone you’re comfortable with. Stay healthy, ladies! Get those annual exams.