Fibroids’ 5 Most Common Symptoms

Uterine fibroids are more common than you may think: various studies have shown the incidence of fibroids in women of reproductive age to be anywhere from 50%to more than 80%! That level of prevalence may seem surprising, given how little we hear about the condition. However, many women don’t realize they have fibroids, often for a simple reason: nearly 50% of women who have uterine fibroids experience no noticeable symptoms whatsoever.

Then there’s the other half: those women whose fibroids cause them to suffer with one or multiple bothersome, inconvenient, and sometimes downright painful symptoms. Among the smorgasbord of irregularities that may be symptomatic of uterine fibroids, a handful stand out as the most common. Five of the most reported symptoms are: heavy menstrual bleeding, backache, urinary symptoms, constipation and painful intercourse. These symptoms fall into two major categories—bleeding and what are known as “bulk symptoms”—and are attributed to separate types of fibroids, either submucosal, intramural, and subserosal.

Heavy bleeding during menstruation, the most common symptom experienced by women with fibroids, can be connected to one of two different categories of fibroids. The first of these, submucosal fibroids, are defined as fibroids that grow inward, protruding into the cavity of the uterus. Intramural fibroids, by contrast, are those that grow within the uterine wall. Studies have linked both intramural and submucosal fibroids to heavy bleeding.

1. Heavy periods
Heavy menstrual bleeding (also known as menorrhagia), is one of the most widely reported symptoms associated with uterine fibroids. One particular study concluded that women with large fibroids were 2.5 times more likely to require eight or more pads/tampons on the heaviest day of their period. Especially long periods (lasting more than 7 days), and flooding (sudden gushes of blood) have also been connected to the presence of fibroids. True, heavy bleeding isn’t particularly rare, nor it is linked exclusively to the condition of uterine fibroids; however, when a team of researchers in Washington D.C. surveyed a randomly selected group of women between the ages of 35 and 39, 46% of women with fibroids reported experiencing “gushing” during their menstrual periods, while only 28% of women without fibroids had that same experience. In addition to creating a major inconvenience, heavy bleeding of this nature can cause a woman to become anemic and fatigued.

Other common symptoms of uterine fibroids are connected to a third type of fibroid, the subserosal type. Instead of growing inside the cavity or wall of the uterus, subserosal fibroids develop on the outer surface of the uterus. As subserosal fibroids grow outward from the uterus, they may press against neighboring organs in the abdominal cavity and are largely responsible for bulk symptoms. Intramural fibroids that grow large or are abundant can also contribute to bulk symptoms. Depending on their size and location, pressure from these fibroids can create a host of other common, uncomfortable symptoms, including backache, urinary symptoms, constipation, and painful intercourse.

2. Backache
If the fibroids are located on the back surface of your uterus, they may press on spinal nerves, which causes a backache.

3. Urinary Symptoms
Fibroids that push against the bladder can cause urinary irregularities. Frequent urination, urgency, and difficulty emptying the bladder are all common symptoms afflicting fibroid sufferers.

4. Constipation
Another possible result of fibroid interference is constipation. If a large, subserosal fibroid presses on the rectum, difficulty passing stools may result.

5. Painful intercourse
Just as the location of a large, subserosal fibroid can cause it to get in the way of surrounding organs, the effects of a fibroid’s placement can potentially cause pain during sex. If intercourse is consistently painful, fibroids are one possible explanation.

Remember: while these five symptoms are very common among fibroid sufferers, none of them directly indicates the presence of uterine fibroids. However, a woman who experiences one or more of these symptoms should talk to her gynecologist about the possibility of fibroids being the cause.

Sources:

  1. Istre, O. “Management of symptomatic fibroids: conservative surgical treatment modalities other than abdominal or laparoscopic myomectomy”, Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2008;Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 735–747
  2. Baird, D et al. “High cumulative incidence of uterine leiomyoma in black and white women: Ultrasound evidence”, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Vol. 188, No. 1, p. 105
  3. Stovall, D. “Clinical symptomatology of uterine leiomyomas”, Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2001; Vol. 44:364-71
  4. Wegienka, G et al. “Self-reported heavy bleeding associated with uterine leiomyomata”. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2003; 101: pp. 431–437
  5. Heavy Menstrual Bleeding in Fibroids” Fibroid.net retr.12/22/14 http://www.fibroid.net/heavy-menstrual-bleeding-in-fibroids
  6. “Uterine Fibroids”: “Symptoms”. Mayo Clinic website. retr. 12/24/14. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/basics/symptoms/con-20037901
  7. Burbank, F. Fibroids, Menstruation, Childbirth, and Evolution, p. 104. Wheatmark, 2009. Tucson, AZ.
  8. Galen, D. et al.”Does Menstrual Bleeding Decrease After Ablation of Intramural Myomas? A Retrospective Study”, The Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, 2013
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