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You are here: Home > Fertility & Trying to Conceive > Fertility Concerns

Fertility and Fibroids

by Kathleen Roberts | September 21, 2009 12:00 AM
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Fertility and Fibroids

Fibroids (also called leiomyoma or myoma) are non-cancerous growths that form on the inside or outside walls of the uterus. Depending on where they are located in the uterus, they may be called submucosal, subserosal or intramural fibroids. If they are attached by a stalk, they are called pedunculated. These growths, where ever they are located, can be microscopic in size or large enough to make a woman appear pregnant when she is not.

Who Gets Fibroids

20 to 30 percent of women develop fibroids, typically when they are in their late 30s to early 40s. After menopause, fibroids tend to shrink. This is thought to be because of a woman's estrogen levels during these times in her life. It seems that the occurrence of fibroids is genetic and women of African-American decent are actually three times more likely than other women to develop fibroids. Obesity is also a risk factor for developing fibroids. Pregnancy also causes fibroids to develop more rapidly.

Diagnosing Fibroids

In some cases, women have no symptoms to tip them off that fibroids are in their bodies. They are usually discovered during gynecological examinations. The doctor can usually feel the mass inside the uterus when he or she performs the exam.

If fibroids are suspected, there are other tests that are done to confirm the presence of them. These tests include ultrasounds, x-rays, cat scans, MRIs or hysterosalpingograms and sonohysterograms which involve injecting dye or water into the uterus before an x-ray to provide a contrast. This makes it easier to spot the fibroids. In some cases, doctors will perform surgeries such as a laparoscopy or hysteroscopy to see if there are definitely fibroids present.

Symptoms

Some women have uncomfortable symptoms that indicate fibroids may be present. Symptoms may be nothing more than unusually heavy or frequent menstrual periods. In other cases, women may have excessive weakness, fatigue and anemia. These symptoms are usually due to the blood loss from heavy periods as well as between period bleeding that may also occur.

Fibroid sufferers may also experience painful intercourse, bleeding after intercourse and increased vaginal discharge. Some women with fibroids even experience pain in their legs and back. For some women, discomfort from fibroids is so severe that they opt to have hysterectomies to treat them. Women who hope to have children may worry that this is a necessary treatment, making the prospect of having a baby impossible.

Treatment

Fortunately, because fibroids are rarely cancerous, this extreme treatment isn't always necessary. It is simply an option for women who want relief and do not plan to have children anymore. There are treatments that still allow a woman to have a baby. Most medications are not an option because they interfere with a woman's ability to ovulate. However, the surgery called a myomectomy is a safer treatment option for women who want to conceive because it removes the fibroids without damaging healthy uterine tissue. Whether this is a major or minor surgery depends on how serious the fibroids are. If they are very deep, you may have to have a cesarian delivery.

Risks

Submucous and intracavitary fibroids reduce fertility by about 70 percent, but removal of these fibroids will restore fertility. You can become pregnant if you have fibroids, but you need to be aware of the possible risks involved. The fact is, most women with fibroids have normal pregnancies. However, some women do have complications during their pregnancies that are related to having fibroids.

Most commonly, these issues include a chance of a cesarean delivery that is six times higher than in women without fibroids. Other risks include labor that will not progress, a breech baby, delivery before the baby is actually due and the placenta breaking away from the uterus before the baby is born, also called placental abruption. When this happens, the baby is put in danger because it cannot get enough oxygen.

Even with all of these possible dangers, in most cases women with fibroids have a perfectly normal pregnancies. If you have fibroids and want to have children, discuss this with your doctor. There are new treatment options, including laser treatments and new medications, being explored that may be available to you. Don't let fibroids keep you from becoming a mother. Working with your doctor, that dream can still be a reality.

Kathleen Roberts is a freelance writer/editor specializing in health and parenting topics. She is the mother of five beautiful children who are homeschooled. They all live happily on their family farm in Colorado.

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