Fibroids are muscle tumors that develop in the uterine wall (womb). They are noncancerous growths that often appear during childbearing years. They can develop as a single tumor or as multiple tumors that can range in size from an apple seed to a grapefruit in utero. Some women with fibroids do not experience symptoms, while others may have a hard time coping with their symptoms. According to the Journal of Women’s Health, 25 to 50 percent of women with fibroids have symptoms such as heavy periods, reproductive problems, increased urinary frequency, anemia, and abdominal pain.
Dr. Nirmala M, Consultant Obstetrician, Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist at Whitefield Maternity Hospitals, Bengaluru, shares how to manage if you are experiencing abdominal pain due to fibroids.
Causes of fibroids
Before we get into pain solutions, let’s understand the causes of fibroids. These are benign tumors that develop on the lining or walls of the uterus. Although there is no single cause that is fully understood, there may be multiple factors that can contribute to the development of fibroids. Some of these factors are:
1. Obesity: Excess body fat tends to increase estrogen levels in the body. This makes obese women more likely to develop fibroids.
2. Hormonal imbalance: Fibroids have been found to have more estrogen and progesterone receptors than typical uterine muscle cells, raising the possibility that these hormones may be involved in fibroid growth and development. Age, pregnancy, and specific medications can affect the levels of these hormones, which in turn can affect how quickly fibroids grow.
3. Family history: Women with a family history of fibroids tend to be at higher risk of developing fibroids themselves. This suggests that there could be a genetic influence and a hereditary factor that causes fibroids.
4. Age: Age also plays a crucial role as a factor. Fibroids are more likely to be seen in people nearing menopause, indicating that women between the ages of 45 and 55 are more susceptible to fibroids.
Why do women suffer abdominal pain due to fibroids?
Fibroids can cause women to have abdominal pain for a number of reasons. It mainly depends on its location, size, and the number of fibroids present. Dr. Nirmala says: “Fibroids tend to grow very large, putting pressure on nearby organs and causing severe abdominal pain. They can bypass their blood supply chain by degenerating or rupturing tissue. The pain is maximized during the period of menstruation, which causes heavy bleeding and severe abdominal pain.
However, you should keep in mind that fibroids are not the only cause of abdominal pain. It may be due to indigestion or constipation. So, see if that is your case.
Tips to Manage Abdominal Pain Due to Fibroids
Here are 5 tips to manage abdominal pain caused by fibroids:
1. Heating pad
Fibroids cause inflammation that can immobilize the area and using a heating pad on the lower abdomen can help reduce pain to some degree by increasing mobility. Helps relax tense muscles and relieve cramps.
Also read: Did you know that fibroids can cause infertility? This is what you need to know
2. Eat a balanced diet
A balanced diet is essential because it helps minimize inflammation, which in turn helps decrease pain. According to Dr. Nirmala, eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, as well as fruits like apples and tomatoes, can help reduce your risk of getting fibroids. Also increase your intake of protein, whole grains, and vitamin D. In addition to this, avoid processed foods, red meat, and products with a lot of dairy and sugar to prevent fibroids from getting worse.
3. Relaxation techniques
One of the things that can exacerbate fibroid pain is stress. The practice of certain relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture, etc. It has been shown to be effective in combating pain. For additional pain relief, try lying on your side with your legs close to your chest.
4. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol use can increase the severity and duration of common fibroid symptoms. So cutting down on your alcohol intake can help you cope with some of the worst symptoms of fibroids.
5. Pain reliever
Your doctor may recommend taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to help decrease throbbing pain. NSAIDs can also decrease excessive menstrual flow associated with fibroids.
What are the treatment options for uterine fibroids to avoid pain?
Treatment of fibroids depends on several factors, such as size, pain intensity, location, age, and the desire to conceive in the future. Some proven treatment methods, according to Dr. Nirmala, are:
1. Medications: Hormone medications, such as birth control pills, can shrink fibroids, but they can relieve symptoms such as heavy bleeding and pelvic pain. The purpose of the drugs is to shrink fibroids by attacking the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.
2. Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Medications: Usually used for three to six months, this medication treats fibroids by preventing the production of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, resulting in a temporary menopause-like state where fibroids shrink and anemia improves.
3. Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD): This form of medication helps relieve heavy bleeding caused by fibroids. Although this progestin-releasing IUD may not cause fibroids to shrink or disappear, it does help provide relief.
4. Other medicines: In cases of anemia due to heavy bleeding, doctors suggest iron and vitamin supplements, which help alleviate the symptoms of anemia. Before taking any form of medication, it is important to consult your doctor to discuss possible side effects or complications.
When medications do not improve the condition of the fibroids, there are surgical methods to consider that also depend on factors such as the size of the fibroids, their location, and the patient’s future pregnancy plans. Creating a treatment plan under these conditions is essential because some surgical options preserve the uterus and allow for future pregnancy, while other options can damage or remove the uterus.
Surgical Options for Fibroids
Here are some surgical treatments for a patient planning future pregnancies:
1. Myomectomy is a surgical operation in which fibroids are removed while the uterus is still in place. There are a few surgical methods to treat fibroids depending on the size, number, and location.
2. In laparoscopy, small incisions are made in the abdomen through which an endoscope is inserted to remove the fibroids.
3. In hysteroscopy, an endoscope cuts fibroids that are inserted through the vagina and cervix into the uterus.
4. Open incisions, such as a laparotomy, where the incision is made in the abdomen, can be used to remove fibroids.
In cases where the person does not consider future pregnancies, some surgical measures that can help treat fibroids effectively are:
1. Uterine Fibroid Embolization: UFE is a minimally invasive therapy that involves blocking the blood vessels that fibroids use to receive tiny particles, causing the fibroids to shrink and eventually die.
2. Hysterectomy: Hysterectomy is a surgical process in which the entire uterus is removed. This is the most effective method of treating uterine fibroids, and is often suggested for women who no longer want to become pregnant.