Your Guide to Uterine Fibroids Symptoms and Risk Factors (and What You Can Do About Them)

Uterine fibroids aren’t something women like to think about, let alone experience. Up to 80% of women will develop them by the time they reach age 50. It’s important to note that not all women experience uterine fibroid symptoms, and some are unaware that they even have them. For those who do experience symptoms, many find them difficult to live with.

Some women experience pain and heavy menstrual bleeding because of uterine fibroids. Others find themselves making frequent trips to the bathroom because of the increased pressure the fibroids put on their bladder. Still, others worry if fibroids will cause infertility issues or problems during pregnancy.

Uterine fibroids can affect women so differently, so it’s important to understand the risk factors, symptoms, and how to take care of yourself if you’re diagnosed with fibroids. This guide will help you gain a clearer insight into what uterine fibroids are, how they affect you, and the treatments, including natural options, available.

Uterine Fibroids in women over 50

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas or myomas for short, are muscular growths in the uterine walls. They often appear during the childbearing years. Fibroids are classified into three groups based on where they grow: 

Uterine Fibroids
  • Submucosal – These grow in the uterine cavity
  • Intramural – These grow in the wall of the uterus
  • Subserosal – These grow on the outside of the uterus 

Uterine fibroids are almost always non-cancerous (about 1 in 1,000 are cancerous) and aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer.

Fibroids can be as small as apple seeds or as big as grapefruits. As they grow, they can distort and enlarge the uterus and abdomen, making a woman look pregnant. A woman can have a single fibroid or many that, in rare cases, can expand the uterus so much it reaches the rib cage and causes weight gain.

Typical Uterine Fibroids Symptoms

For some women, fibroids cause only mild symptoms or none at all. About one in three women with fibroids do experience symptoms, however, which can be quite painful and worrisome. Some women may also confuse their endometriosis symptoms with uterine fibroids, so proper detection is key. Women with uterine fibroids may experience:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding (enough to cause anemia)
  • Painful periods with mild to severe cramping
  • Longer and/or more frequent menstruation
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Feeling of fullness in the stomach area and/or enlargement of the lower abdomen, which can happen when fibroids become very large and distend the stomach
  • Persistent urination
  • Constipation and/or rectal pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pressure on the bladder or rectum
  • Possible pregnancy and labor complications, including a six-fold greater risk of cesarean section
  • Reproductive issues, such as infertility

Uterine fibroids are often found during routine pelvic exams. If you’re not due for an exam and have symptoms, your doctor may order lab tests, ultrasound, or other imaging tests, like an MRI.

Uterine Fibroids Risk Factors

Uterine Fibroids Risk Factors

While it’s unclear why some women develop uterine fibroids and others don’t, certain patterns and risk factors have been observed. Simply being a woman of reproductive age is the biggest risk factor. Other factors that impact fibroid development include:

Race

While reproductive-aged women of any ethnicity can develop fibroids, black women are more likely to experience them. They tend to develop them at younger ages and experience larger fibroids at great numbers that cause more severe symptoms. 

Heredity

There is a genetic component of developing uterine fibroids. If your mother or sister had them, you have an increased likelihood of getting them.

Age

Fibroids are most common in women ages 40-50.

Diet

Your diet plays a critical role in every disease process. Uterine fibroids are no different. Having a diet high in red meat and low in green, leafy vegetables, fruit, and dairy has been linked to fibroid development. Drinking alcohol, particularly beer, also increases the risk of fibroid development.

Other Factors

Other risk factors include early onset menstruation, obesity, and a vitamin D deficiency.

Fibroids can cause complications such as anemia, trouble getting pregnant, or issues during pregnancy, so it’s important to have your risk factors assessed, especially if you’ve been experiencing uterine fibroids symptoms. 

How to Treat Uterine Fibroids

In some cases, fibroids shrink and go away on their own. This isn’t always the case, however. If you’re experiencing bothersome or painful symptoms, there are several natural treatments, as well as medical options, that can improve and manage your condition.

Dietary Changes

Women who eat diets high in red meat and foods that contain a lot of calories, sugar, and fat are more likely to develop fibroids. Replacing red meat (beef) with white meat (chicken, turkey) or plant-based protein sources can decrease fibroid development.

Herbal Remedies

Herbal Remedies to treat uterine fibroids

Green tea extract has been a natural remedy for many women. They have found it to lessen severe symptoms and decrease the fibroids’ size. Resveratrol, a chemical that plants produce, is also an herbal remedy that has been suggested may stop cell growth and reproduction of uterine fibroids. In addition, curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric, has been shown to destroy fibrotic cells or stop them from reproducing. 

Lifestyle Adjustments

Some women have success improving fibroid symptoms through lifestyle changes. Fibroids are more common in overweight and obese people, so maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and diet can certainly help. Some activities women should consider:

  • regular physical activity
  • breathing exercises
  • eating a healthy diet
  • tai-chi
  • yoga 

Making a few lifestyle adjustments can make a world of difference and help improve symptoms. 

Medical Treatments

Birth control pills and progesterone-like treatments can help control heavy menstrual bleeding, but they don’t shrink fibroids. Doctors can prescribe drugs such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa), which is designed to stop the body from producing estrogen and progesterone to stop ovulation. Itcan have severe side effects, like bone loss, making natural options more appealing for overall health and wellness.

Being diagnosed with uterine fibroids can be worrisome, but there are holistic treatments that can help manage and control your symptoms.

Contact a Naturopathic Physician With Questions

Though uterine fibroids are typically non-cancerous, they can affect a person’s quality of life in various, sometimes painful ways. The faster you seek guidance, the better your chances of reducing the effects on your health and body.

If you are at a higher risk of developing uterine fibroids or think you may have symptoms, Dr. Karen Threlkel can help. Dr. Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor whose focus is on a natural, holistic approach to your overall health and disease management. Call her office today to set up a virtual or in-office appointment. 

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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