Fibroids although common, are not often spoken about until they start to cause a physical or health problem. Often people have heard of them but don’t quiet know what they are. Many women just get on with it and suffer in relative silence and deal with the symptoms either by taking medication or using holistic treatments to operations including fibroid removal and hysterectomies.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths comprised of either fibrous connective tissue or muscle that develop in or around the womb (uterus). Despite a huge amount of research the exact cause of fibroids remains unknown, but several factors may influence their formation, such as hormones and family history. Fibroids are linked to the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is the female reproductive hormone produced by the ovaries (the female reproductive organs). Estrogen dominance causes the uterus to grow and without the monthly balancing effect of progesterone it does not have the proper signals to stop growing.
TYPES OF FIBROIDS
Fibroids can grow anywhere in the womb and vary in size considerably. Some can be the size of a pea, whereas others can be the size of a melon. The world’s biggest uterine tumour, weighing 30lbs and measuring 21 inches in diameter, has been removed from an Asian woman. The medical term for this type of fibroid is super giant uterine fibroid.
The main types of fibroids are:
Intramural fibroids are the most common type of fibroid, which develop in the muscle wall of the womb
Subserosal fibroids develop outside the wall of the womb into the pelvis and can become very large
Submucosal fibroids develop in the muscle layer beneath the womb’s inner lining and grow into the cavity of the womb
Image taken from: interventionsinradiology
I have a very large stomach the reason for this is I have a womb full of fibroids. Many years ago I asked my old doctor if I had fibroids as I was experiencing some of the symptoms. She stared at my stomach for a few seconds (I am guessing she had x-ray eyes) and said ‘NO’ as I trusted doctors I believed her little did I know what my future held. Many years later I was diagnosed with a multi-fibroid uterus. Medically the size of fibroids are described by equating them to a pregnancy, currently my fibroids make my womb look 8.5 months pregnant HUGE! It has at times been the subject of discussion or the reason why I have been abused about my weight – someone would look at my stomach and then look at me and say ‘should you be eating?’ However what they see as a fat stomach is in fact fibroids.
My fibroids will have to be removed surgically. Because of their size it is a risky operation. The risk of the operation is also with the recovery and the possibility of infection as there will be a lot of skin to heal. Right now with my weight the operation is more dangerous than the condition so to have the operation I have to lose nearly half my body weight and get my BMI to a safe level. Of course it would be great if there was an alternative that works!!
To date I have been fortunate to be pain free despite the size of my fibroids (alien in my stomach). However this week there was a change I was in so much pain I cried. I thought gosh is this what other women go through? I can feel a constant dragging aching pain I would say 7- 8 out of 10 on the pain scale and that is only because I am used to pain. I visited my local clinic just to have a word – the Practice Nurse was extremely helpful and offered a listening ear. That said, having spoken to her the medical advice was to take painkillers. Basically there is not a lot that can be done.
How do fibroids develop?
Fibroids occur in woman it is said 1 in 3 women them at some point in their life. Fibroids usually develop during a woman’s reproductive years (from around 16 to 50 years of age) when oestrogen levels are at their highest. They tend to shrink when oestrogen levels are low, such as after the menopause (when a woman’s monthly periods stop).
Fibroids are thought to develop more frequently in women of African-Caribbean origin. It’s also thought they occur more often in overweight or obese women because being overweight increases the level of oestrogen in the body.
Women who have had children have a lower risk of developing fibroids studies have shown the risk decreases further the more children you have.
Current research is focused on the cause of fibroids. Currently there is limited data available on how a woman can prevent fibroid
Weight control and diet may help to decrease the risk of fibroids. A diet that limits red meat and is rich in green, leafy vegetables, fruit, and fish may be beneficial but this is a probability not a certainty. There are many debates and theories about the hormones in meat.
Often fibroids may not cause you any symptoms. However depending on where the fibroid is within your womb you may get one or more of these symptoms:
- Heavy periods, severe menstrual pain or flooding, sometimes leading to anaemia
- Swelling or enlarged abdomen
- Pain or dragging/aching or heaviness in the belly/ abdominal area feeling in your pelvis and/or lower back
- Passing urine more often or feel an urgent need to pass urine – this happens if a fibroid is pressing on your bladder
- Constipation – this happens if a fibroid is pressing on your bowel
- Pain during intercourse
How are fibroids diagnosed?
A Gynecologist can give you a pelvic exam. This will establish the condition, size and place of fibroids and shape of your uterus. For a thorough examination other tests are needed:
An ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to produce images of your uterus on a screen. This will allow your doctor to see its internal structures and any fibroids present.
A transvaginal ultrasound, in which the ultrasound wand (transducer) is inserted into the vagina, may provide clearer pictures since it is closer to the uterus during this procedure.
Pelvic MRI. This in-depth imaging testing produces pictures of your uterus, ovaries, and other pelvic organs.
Treatments, interventions and medications for fibroids
Medications for uterine fibroids target hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, treating symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure. They don’t eliminate fibroids, but may shrink them. Your doctor also may suggest that you take vitamins and iron if you have heavy menstrual bleeding and anaemia.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists. Commercial names: Lupron, Synarel, others) treat fibroids by blocking the production of estrogen and progesterone, putting you into a temporary postmenopausal state. Menstruation stops, fibroids shrink and anemia often improves.
Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD). A The IUD releases progestin and can relieve heavy bleeding caused by fibroids. It provides symptom relief only and doesn’t shrink fibroids or make them disappear.
Additionally your doctor may recommend oral contraceptives or progestins can help control menstrual bleeding, but they don’t reduce fibroid size. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which may be effective in relieving pain related to fibroids, but they don’t reduce bleeding caused by fibroids.
A non-invasive treatment option for uterine fibroids preserves your uterus, requires no incision and is done on an outpatient basis.
Performed while you’re inside an MRI scanner equipped with a high-energy ultrasound transducer for treatment. The doctor can see images precisely locating the uterine fibroids. The location of the fibroid is targeted with sound waves (sonications) which heat and destroy small areas of fibroid tissue.
Minimally invasive procedures
These procedures can safely destroy uterine fibroids without actually removing them through surgery. They include:
Uterine artery embolisation
Small particles (embolic agents) are injected into the arteries supplying the uterus, cutting off blood flow to fibroids, causing them to shrink and die. This technique can be effective in shrinking fibroids and relieving the symptoms they cause. Complications may occur if the blood supply to your ovaries or other organs is compromised.
In this laparoscopic procedure an electric current or laser is applied and destroys the fibroids and shrinks the blood vessels that feed them. Myolysis is not used often.
Cryomyolysis is similar to Myolysis instead it freezes the fibroids. (I had thy skin on my hand frozen just a small bit I was sooo painful I can imagine how this would feel – just saying perhaps you would feel nothing – duno).
Laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy
When performing a myomectomy a surgeon removes your fibroids leaving your uterus in place. If the fibroids are small and few in number, you and your doctor may opt for a laparoscopic or robotic procedure, which uses slender instruments inserted through small incisions in your abdomen to remove the fibroids from your uterus. Robotic myomectomy gives your surgeon a magnified, 3-D view of your uterus, offering more precision, flexibility and dexterity than is possible using some other techniques.
This procedure may be an option if the fibroids are contained inside the uterus (submucosal fibroids). Your surgeon accesses and removes fibroids using instruments inserted through your vagina and cervix into your uterus.
Endometrial ablation and resection of submucosal fibroids. This treatment, performed with a specialised instrument inserted into your uterus, uses heat, microwave energy, hot water or electric current to destroy the lining of your uterus, either ending menstruation or reducing your menstrual flow. Typically, endometrial ablation is effective in stopping abnormal bleeding. Submucosal fibroids can be removed at the time of hysteroscopy for endometrial ablation (removal of body tissues), but this doesn’t affect fibroids outside the interior lining of the uterus.
Traditional surgical procedure options for traditional surgical procedures include:
If you have multiple fibroids, very large or very deep fibroids, your doctor may use an open abdominal surgical procedure to remove the fibroids. Many women who are told that hysterectomy is their only option can have an abdominal myomectomy instead.
This surgery, the removal of the uterus, remains the only proven permanent solution for uterine fibroids. But hysterectomy is major surgery. It ends your ability to give birth to children. Additionally if you also elect to have your ovaries removed, it brings on menopause and the question of whether you’ll take hormone replacement therapy. Most women with uterine fibroids can choose to keep their ovaries.
Sometimes very large fibroids can outgrow their blood supply and may degenerate and die off. This leads to weight loss and a reduction in symptoms.
Developing new fibroids
Despite having fibroids removed, with all procedures, except hysterectomy, tiny tumors (fibroid seedlings) undetected by your doctor during surgery could eventually grow and cause symptoms that warrant treatment.
Fibroids and obesity
It is said uterine fibroids are three times more likely to affect overweight women. The reason that fibroids and obesity seem to coexist is that fat cells are linked with oestrogen, a hormone that is also linked to obesity.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR MY OWN FIBROIDS?
I have in the past looked at and tried natural or homeopathic ways to treat fibroids. I am definitely not an expert but have undertaken my own research over the years. After having a conversation with a friend I reflected and decided to re-visit some of the changes I made and gave up on or did not try. I am about to embark on doing and using the following:
I will drink blackstrap molasses as they are said to shrink fibroids. I have done this before but will do this for minimum 6-8 months. I add 1-2 spoons to hot (off the boil) water every morning. I will write a post update in a few months.
I will take a natural organic quality Milk Thistle supplement bought from a reputable health shop Milk Thistle has many benefits, it is said to be a natural liver detoxifier and promote liver health therefore help rid the body of toxins. Other herbs include dandelion and yellow dock root.
There are other vitamins and minerals that could be helpful I may add more at a later time.
Jamaican Black Caster Oil
Castor Oil Packs are an ancient therapy that helps to cleanse and heal the body where they are placed. The black castor oil works by its drawing power, clearing the body of excess tissues and toxins. Castor oil packs stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems. The lymphatic system removes toxins and waste from the area stimulated by the castor oil pack. For more information here is a demonstration by Dr. Akilah Schäfer click HERE to see it. Please note caster oil packs should be used with extreme caution please do your own research before commencing treatment.
Raspberry Leaf Tea
Red raspberry leaf (rubus idaeus and r. strigosus) can be taken in the form of a tea. It’s anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea effects makes red raspberry a powerful herb for menstrual problems. Health benefits include the antioxidants that they contain which help to prevent free radical damage to healthy cells in the body, which help prevent various chronic diseases. Red raspberry leaf can help to promote gynecological health as well as promoting hormone balance, which is the enemy of fibroid growth. It is also recommended to help ease labour therefore is said to ease fibroid discomfort pain. I am yet to try this and will be trying it soon. I strongly advise you speak to a qualified Doctor, nutritionalist or dietitian before taking raspberry leaf tea and any of the above mentions treatments.
I will use visualisation exercises such to focus on decreasing the size of my fibroids
Weight and health management through nutritious food
I will eat a diet of mainly unprocessed food that is fresh fruit and vegetables and quality or organic meat and fish – I will also source quality organic protein i.e. plant protein. Cruciferous vegetables i.e. cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and similar green leaf vegetables contain a compound DIM Di-Indoly Methane that shifts the estrogen to a safer form of it. The only thing is you would have to eat or juice more than you can consume for it to make a difference. It is available in tablet/ supplement form known as DIM but you would have to do your research and be sure you get it from a reliable source. IMPORTANTLY speak to your doctor before taking any supplements! Here is an article that gives tips on how to reduce oestrogeon levels. Click HERE to view – remember to come back to this page!!
Recently I spoke to my own Doctor about giving up meat he said:
‘There are some tribes in Africa that do not have access to meat and do not eat meat – the women still have fibroids.’ This is a very interesting point as many bloggers and naturopaths advise to give up meat and fish. I do believe meat may exacerbate the symptoms but don’t have the medical evidence to prove it – eating organic meat may help.
End note: If you see me eating cake or a piece of BBQ chicken walk on by with your head high – I love my food! My main focus is on eating healthily, exercising and reducing my weight.
EXERCISE AND FIBROIDS
Regular exercise can have a positive effect on your health. Exercise can help burn fat tackling obesity and reducing weight. Abdominal visceral fat is linked to elevated estrogen production. Increased oestrogen levels can trigger uterine fibroid growth. It is good to Exercise helps the liver to disperse excessive oestrogen and helps to balance all your hormones. Exercise is an important step to get your fibroid tumours under control and relieve pain as they can relieve fibroid pain, build strength and releases endorphins, which helps promote a sense of wellbeing. Importantly speak to your GP before undertaking exercise and get advice or the all clear.
Types of exercise
Walking is a great exercise – not too strenuous and extremely effective. Start slowly and with care. Over the weeks increase your distance and speed/ pace. You can walk-run that is walk ad jog for 30 seconds and increase the gentle jogging i.e. 45 seconds to 1 min and so on with the walking in between. Another adaptation is to hold weights as you walk and in a controlled manor with bent elbows swing your arms back and forth from the shoulder using a full range of movement. If you can time/ sync your breathing to your arm movements. Ensure you wear the appropriate clothing and footwear and bring water.
Swimming is a great non-weight bearing cardiovascular exercise as the water supports your body weight, making it gentler on the body. You can join a club or take part in aqua aerobics. If you feel conscious of your body you could purchase a swim dress or if you are a man wear fitted supportive swim wear (covering top of legs and stomach) with shorts on top. When weight loss occurs or your confidence builds you can adapt what you wear.
Yoga there are certain yoga poses that are said to help relieve fibroid pain. These exercises help open up the uterus and relieve the congestion in the uterine area. Take advice from your yoga teacher and let him/her know about your health conditions – do your research and be careful and start out slow.
Strength/ resistance training exercises strength training exercise is a form of physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness that exercised a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance. This helps strengthen muscles and tissues over time by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or your own body weight. Improvements can be made in your strength, aerobic endurance and skeletal muscles.
Be aware of exercises that exert a lot of pressure on the lower abdomen (depending on the size of your fibroids) i.e. sit ups or reverse crunches – get advice from your qualified instructor. As for me I find it difficult to lie face down on my stomach. Sharp jerks can irritate and make fibroids painful. Another consideration for a large fibroid uterus is gravity – your centre of balance may shift if you have a large stomach. This has to be taken into consideration when doing balancing exercises you may need the support of a wall or a chair. Your qualified instructor will advise you.
Cardiovascular exercise burns calories and can help you to lose weight. However, jarring, high-impact exercises can cause pain to existing fibroids, making it difficult for you to exercise. Instead, choose low to medium impact cardiovascular exercises like water aerobics or swimming. Walking, using an elliptical machine or cycling also burn calories and fat, helping to reduce unhealthy estrogen production. Exercise at least three to five times per week for at least 30 – 1 hour minutes to create a calorie deficit that helps you lose weight.
I know of and have spoken to may women who have had a variety treatment for fibroids and are living happy healthy lives. I was fortunate to find a great doctor – as I said do your own research. My previous research lead me to this interesting and informative article in the Daily Mail about the best UK Fibroid doctors and Professors. Click HERE to read it.
In closing I would like to stress. I am NOT an expert on fibroids. What I have written and expressed is a reflection of my own personal journey and my research. If required I will update this blog as necessary. Please do seek medical advice from a n appropriately qualified G.P. or medical practitioner before taking any action or following any of the actions I have taken. I cannot emphasise the importance enough. I welcome your comments.
Full Figured Fitness provides exercise and support for everybody who is overweight, obese or de-conditioned. If you would like Personal training please click HERE.