Despite being incredibly common, little is known about uterine fibroid causes. They are particularly common in females in their 40s and 50s, so much so that most women will experience them by the age of 50. There’s strong evidence that uterine fibroids are prevalent in as many as 70% of women, but that estimate is thought to be conservative because many women who experience them have no symptoms.
Many others do, though, and uterine fibroids can be incredibly painful and debilitating. It can be quite difficult living with such an invisible condition, especially because so little is known about it. Understanding what causes uterine fibroids — and what the symptoms look like if you have them — goes a long way in ensuring you get the necessary care. This guide walks you through it all, including natural treatment options.
Defining Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are “noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years.” A few facts to keep in mind:
- Uterine fibroids are also known as “leiomyomas” or “myomas.”
- They are essentially benign, fibrous tumors.
- Uterine fibroids tend to grow in the wall of the uterus.
- Women can have a single fibroid or several at once.
- Fibroids range significantly in size, from a tiny seed to larger than a grapefruit.
It’s important to understand that many women do not experience any symptoms, while the women who do can report symptoms of discomfort and pain to the point of making it difficult to carry out daily activities.
Key Symptoms to Keep in Mind
Although uterine fibroids can vary based on the number, size, and location, symptoms may include:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding with blood clots that can lead to anemia
- Irregular and/or heavy bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain or cramps
- Pain during intercourse
- Bloating, particularly in the lower abdominal area
- Bladder pressure, which can cause frequent urination, incontinence, or difficulty completely emptying the bladder
- Pressure on the rectum, often causing severe back pain and constipation
Because of the nature and severity of these physical symptoms, it’s also common for women to suffer from anxiety, depression, and negative body image.
4 Uterine Fibroid Causes
Doctors understand that uterine fibroids develop in stem cells found in the smooth muscle cells of the uterus, called the myometrium. Unfortunately, there are no specific known causes of uterine fibroids, but prevalence and medical research have found several risk factors. These include:
1. Estrogen and progesterone
Research suggests that fibroids are strongly linked to the balance of progesterone and estrogen. It’s extremely rare for fibroids to appear before a woman’s first menstrual period, for example, and they decrease significantly after menopause, making the link to progesterone and estrogen highly probable.
There is overwhelming evidence that African-American women are as much as two to three times more likely to develop fibroids, and that up to 90% of African-American females are diagnosed with them. Although the reasons are unknown, these females are also generally diagnosed at younger ages, experience more severe symptoms, and develop fibroids that are larger in size.
Obese women have a much higher risk of developing fibroids. Again, there is little information that points to why, but there is a clear and indisputable link.
Women who have an immediate family member, such as a mother or sister, with uterine fibroids are substantially more likely to develop fibroids themselves.
There are a number of other potential causes and factors for developing fibroids, such as eating a diet high in red meat and drinking substantial amounts of alcohol. Females who got their menstrual cycle at an early age also appear to be at higher risk.
3 Natural Treatments for Uterine Fibroids
Until fairly recently, the main treatment option for fibroids was a hysterectomy — a surgery to completely remove the uterus. Your doctor may still recommend this, but typically only when other solutions haven’t worked. Fortunately, there are several highly effective, less invasive natural treatments for fibroids today.
There is clear evidence that a diet rich in red meat may put you at higher risk for developing fibroids, meaning it’s a good idea to limit or eliminate this food from your diet. Instead, opt for lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish. Eating plenty of leafy green vegetables including parsley and even edible flowers, nuts, and flax and sunflower seeds, which are good for the health of the uterus.
Although more research is needed, evidence has been found that drinking green tea daily can shrink the size of participants’ fibroids and lessen their symptoms. Green tea is generally safe to drink and has a number of other health benefits, including being high in antioxidants and improving brain function.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes
In addition to watching what you eat, regular exercise has significant benefits for women living with uterine fibroids. It can not only keep your weight in check, but gentle movements like yoga, tai-chi, swimming, and indoor cycling can also reduce stress and alleviate some of the worst fibroid symptoms.
It’s important to note that typically no treatment is necessary beyond regular monitoring if you have fibroids but no symptoms. Fibroids also tend to shrink on their own after menopause.
Get Help from a Naturopathic Expert
Living with uterine fibroids can be extremely painful, stressful, and challenging. The good news is that you don’t have to accept this as your fate. There are many ways to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with fibroids.Contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today about any uterine fibroids questions or concerns you may have. Dr. Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor who seeks to help her patients identify and remove the obstacles standing in the way of their health. She can’t wait to provide the help you need to get your health — and life — back on track.