Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow on the wall of the uterus. They can be very common and some estimates indicate that more than half of women have them in their 50s. In most women, fibroids do not cause any symptoms and can go unnoticed. However, in some women fibroids cause serious symptoms that require medical treatment. To get proper treatment, you will need to identify the symptoms and receive a proper medical diagnosis from a doctor.
Part 1 of 3: Identify Uterine Fibroids
Step 1. Identify any symptoms of the menstrual cycle
Uterine fibroids can cause changes and problems to the menstrual cycle. If you've had a very regular period and it changes, then those changes may be caused by uterine fibroids. However, these symptoms can also indicate other health problems. Symptoms that may indicate that you have uterine fibroids include the following:
- excessive bleeding during menstruation
- severe menstrual cramps
- bleeding between periods
Step 2. Pay attention to acute symptoms
There are a variety of general health problems that can appear during and between periods that may indicate the presence of uterine fibroids or another health problem. Some symptoms are directly related to your period, but many simply affect your overall health. Symptoms that may indicate the presence of fibroids include the following:
- stomach bloating or a painless mass in the lower abdomen
- frequent urination that is caused by a fibroid oppressing the bladder
- pain during sexual intercourse
- lower back pain
- chronic vaginal discharge
- inability to urinate
Step 3. Identify any reproductive problems
Even if you don't have any acute symptoms, uterine fibroids can cause reproductive problems. If you have infertility problems, it can be caused by uterine fibroids; however, it can also be caused by other health problems.
If you have trouble conceiving, see a doctor. Your doctor can perform tests and evaluate if there are any medical problems that are preventing you from getting pregnant
Step 4. Assess your risk factors
There are some risk factors that can increase your chance of developing uterine fibroids. Risk factors that increase your chance of getting uterine fibroids include the following:
- Ethnicity African American women are more likely to have uterine fibroids and to have them at a young age. Also, while other women's risk of having fibroids decreases with age, that of African American women increases.
- Weight. There is a slight increase in the risk of fibroids if you are overweight or obese.
- Age of the first menstruation. The younger you are when you have your first period, the more likely you are to get uterine fibroids over time.
- Lack of motherhood. You are more likely to have fibroids if you have never given birth to a child.
Part 2 of 3: Get a Medical Diagnosis
Step 1. Get a medical exam
If you suspect that you have fibroids, then you should have a medical exam. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, do a general exam, and then do a pelvic exam. A primary care doctor can do the initial exam and tests. They can then refer you to a gynecologist for further evaluation and treatment.
The doctor will most likely perform an internal pelvic exam. To do this, he will look inside your cervix and then perform a bimanual exam to assess the size of your uterus. They may also do a Pap smear and test to see if you have any infections
Step 2. Get an ultrasound
After a physical exam, the doctor may order an ultrasound of the uterus. This may include an internal and external (transvaginal) exam. This procedure may be necessary to find out where the fibroid may be, how large it is, and how many there are.
Step 3. Talk about what types of fibroids you have
When the doctor identifies fibroids, he will tell you what type they are. There are three types of uterine fibroids, subserous, intramural, and submucosal. They differ according to their location in the reproductive system. These different types of fibroids can cause different symptoms and may require different types of treatments.
- Subserous fibroids extend more than 50% outside the uterus. These fibroids rarely affect fertility.
- Intramural fibroids are within the muscle of the uterus, without any dent in the uterine cavity.
- Submucosal fibroids project into the uterine cavity. These fibroids can drastically lower your pregnancy rate.
Step 4. Accept medical treatment
Depending on the type of fibroids you have and its severity, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan. This can include removing them or leaving them there. Whether or not the doctor recommends surgery, he may also prescribe medications to shrink fibroids and relieve any symptoms.
- In many cases the doctor will prescribe pain relievers, contraceptives, and gonadotropin-releasing hormones, which slow or stop the development of fibroids. The contraceptive will limit bleeding, if this is a symptom of fibroids.
- If the doctor recommends surgery, he may refer to several types of surgery. These types include laparoscopic myomectomy, hysteroscopic myomectomy, or laparotomy, which are surgical procedures done to remove fibroids.
- Many women with less severe cases of fibroids (about 30%) do not require treatment due to lack of symptoms or pain.
- If you want to get pregnant in the future, be sure to tell your doctor, as this detail can affect treatment options.
Part 3 of 3: Dealing With Uterine Fibroids
Step 1. Treat acute symptoms
Having fibroids can make your periods heavy and painful, even if you treat them medically. If this is the case, then you will need to treat the acute symptoms of your period. To treat cramps, heavy bleeding, and other problems associated with your period, you can:
- Use an ice pack. An ice pack on the abdomen or back can reduce pain. Use the ice pack for 20 minutes at a time and remove the bag so your skin doesn't get too cold.
- Take vitamin C regularly. Vitamin C can help your body absorb excess iron, which can cause excessive menstrual bleeding.
- Take an iron supplement. If you have excessive bleeding, this can make you anemic. If that's the case, take a supplement to regulate your iron level.
Step 2. Make changes in your lifestyle
In addition to following your medical treatment plan and treating symptoms, making lifestyle changes can also help with the disorder. Anything you can do to minimize your period will go a long way toward reducing symptoms. Some things you can do to minimize your period include the following:
- exercising regularly
- eat fruit and vegetables
- avoid sugar and fat
Step 3. Find a support system
If you have uterine fibroids, you will need the help and support of the people in your life. You will need them to help you get the medical treatment you need. For example, you will need a ride home and home care after surgery. You will also need help when you are in pain and cannot take care of yourself.