The day a woman gets her period marks the beginning of her reproductive years up until menopause. Many women will begin to undergo age-related changes in their body, like uterine fibroids, which are often asymptomatic non-cancerous tumors that grow within the wall of the uterus. The size, number, and location of the fibroids could determine the extent of complications a woman may face.

So, who's at risk for fibroids?

The majority of women will have uterine fibroids:  70 to 80 percent of women will have uterine fibroids before the age of 50, though there are differences in expectation about when they may turn up.

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Dr. Wendy Chang, a reproductive endocrinologist and OB GYN at the Southern California Reproductive Center in California, says fibroids are largely seen during the reproductive years (20s to 50s), and often shrink during menopause.

However, "fibroids have not been observed in prepubertal girls, but have been seen in adolescents", she told Medical Daily .

Fibroid risk includes early onset of menstruation, with prevalence for fibroids increasing with age, specifically during each decade of life before menopause. In addition, Chang explains, race also influences susceptibility, with black women two to three times more likely than white women to get the benign tumors.

Types Of Fibroids

Fibroid symptoms only occur in a minority of women, and what type they get can vary by individual. There are three types of fibroids that can turn up within the uterus, including the submucosal (the inner part of the uterus), subserosal (protruding out of the uterus onto the bladder), and intramural (in the wall of the uterus). There are other fibroids, known as pedunculated, which develop a stem (a slender base that supports the tumor.

It's not clear what causes fibroids, but there are several factors that may influence their formation. Therefore, no one knows what causes them to grow or shrink. However, it is known they're under hormonal control, both estrogen and progesterone. They tend to grow rapidly during pregnancy, when hormone levels are high, but they shrink when anti-hormone medication is used. Fibroids stop growing or shrinking once a woman reaches menopause.

Fibroids aren't as scary as they sound, but it's important to be aware of these 6 common symptoms.

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A "Tiny" Bladder

The urge to pee very frequently could be a sign fibroids are growing on the outside of the uterus, protruding out into the abdomen. Women who tend to get up in the middle of the night to urinate, tend to urinate small amounts, or have difficulty initiating urination, could have fibroids.

According to Chang, this is due to the fibroids pressing into its neighbor, the bladder, which results in pressure, urgency at low bladder volumes, frequency or other bladder symptoms.  

Woman writing in field Six signs you may have uterine fibroids, from heavy menstrual bleeding to painful sex. Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

Constipation

There are fibroids that grow anteriorly — at the front of the uterus — that they push against the rectum. can interfere with bodily secretions.

Moreover, Chang notes: "Large fibroids that grow posteriorly (to the back), can press into the rectum and can sometimes impact bowley movement quality or frequency".

The pressure on the bowel can lead to constipation or bloating, or both.

Abdominal Fullness

Fibroids can lead to noticeable swelling in the lower abdomen, which could make a women appear pregnant. This may be due to the size of some fibroids that could appear physically obvious in the abdominal cavity. Women who do experience abdominal fullness should seek immediate medical attention.

Read More: Embolization Works as Hysterectomy Alternative In Treating Uterine Fibroids

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

A heavy period is the most common symptom of fibroids for women.  

"Fibroids, especially those that distort or grow into the uterine lining, often contribute to heavier menses", said Chang.

Those lodged in the wall of the uterus can cause heavy bleeding, leading to heavier periods. Moreover, fibroids may change the shape of the uterus. For women who report heavy menses, Chang suggests getting an ultrasound to reveal if fibroids is the causation of excessive menstrual bleeding.

Fibroids can also lead to longer periods, but it's not known why.

Lower Back Pain

If fibroids are large enough, they may cause enough pressure to create muscular or spinal pain. A small fibroid within the uterine wall is less likely to cause back pain.

"Rarely, fibroids may compress or exert mass effect near the sacral nerves," said Chang.

However, she warns this is very rare, not common at all, and other causes of low back pain should be ruled out.

Painful Sex

Pressure on the uterus, whether inside or out, or growths in or around the cervix can lead to pain. It is little controversial whether women with fibroids in any location are more likely to experience painful sex, compared to those without, according to Chang.

Among women with fibroids and painful sex, "anterior or fundal (at the top) fibroids are the more likely to be associated" she said.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it doesn't mean you have fibroids. They could also be an sign of various health conditions. It's best to talk to your doctor to get an abdominal or pelvic exam, an ultrasound or an MRI to confirm the diagnosis.

See Also:

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Female Reproductive System Still Baffles Many Women