What are Fibroids?
Many people have heard of fibroids in passing, but what exactly are they? The simple answer is that they are non-cancerous growths in the muscular wall of the uterus, and are very common among women. In fact 30 to 50% of women over the age of 35 have one or more uterine fibroids, most without even knowing it.
How Do I Know If I Have Fibroids?
Most women do not even realise they have fibroids as there may be no obvious symptoms. The larger the fibroid the more likely there are to be symptoms, which can include:
- Heavy periods and/or lengthy periods
- Menstrual cramps
- Spotting between periods
- A sensation of heaviness or pressure in the back
- Pain in the pelvic area or backache
- More frequent passing of urine
Do Fibroids Affect Fertility
Uterine fibroids can be as small as a pea or larger than a grapefruit. It is their size and location that determines their impact on fertility.
A recent study has shown that fibroids (regardless of location) were associated with a 15% reduction in pregnancy rates, a 30% reduction in live birth rates and a 67% increase in miscarriage. The effects of fibroids were even more pronounced when they were submucosal (inside the uterus). Fibroids found outside the uterus (subserosal) did not seem to affect pregnancy rates.
Submucosal fibroids – are the most likely to interfere with fertility as they grow from the inner wall of the womb and can inhibit successful implantation of an embryo.
Intramural fibroids – which grow within the muscular wall of the womb are the most common type of fibroid. They are likely to cause fertility problems and can increase the likelihood of miscarriage.
Subserosal fibroids – grow from the outside wall of the womb in the pelvic cavity. These have the potential to become very large if left untreated
What Causes fibroids?
Fibroids are sensitive to oestrogen; it stimulates them to grow, especially if insufficient progesterone is produced in your body. Studies have shown fibroids contain a greater quantity of oestrogen receptors than surrounding healthy uterine tissue. When a woman reaches menopause, the lack of oestrogen causes them to shrink.
Fibroids are the result of years of oestrogen dominance. Synthetic hormones found in the contraceptive pill, implant and vaginal ring as well as the hormones in HRT also fuel their growth. Environmental oestrogens such as pesticides and plastic have a significantly detrimental effect on fibroids.
Diagnosis Of Fibroids
Fibroids can be detected during a physical examination performed by a gynaecologist or general practitioner. The diagnosis needs to be confirmed with an ultrasound.
Small fibroids that are not causing any symptoms are simply left alone. Larger or problematic fibroids are often treated by surgery, the most common being hysterectomy. Obviously that’s not an option for women who want to have children and even less drastic surgery can cause weakness in the uterine wall and are not recommended. It’s important to discuss the options thoroughly with your medical specialist or GP.
What Are The Natural Treatment Options?
In most cases smaller fibroids will respond very well to natural treatments.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine can rebalance your system and naturally reduce the incidence or size of fibroids. (In Chinese medicine the term fibroids are an example of ‘blood stagnation’)
A naturopathic approach to treating fibroids will look at addressing oestrogen dominance through diet, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. One common used herb, chasteberry has been shown to shrink and prevent the return of fibroids. It reduces excess oestrogen, balances hormones and reduces inflammation. However, it is important to have a professional herbalist or naturopath thoroughly assess your particular needs.
Diet wise, make sure you don’t have high blood insulin levels. Insulin is produced when you eat sugar, flour, grains and cereals therefore it’s important to limit the intake of these foods.
Environmentally it’s important to reduce your exposure to environmental oestrogens. Plastic, pesticides, dioxins and other chemicals all promote fibroid growth.
Remember to always consult a healthcare professional before embarking on any new treatment.