Millions of women around the world are affected by the development of uterine fibroids each year. While it is not a life-threatening condition in itself, the symptoms and potential complications that come with it make it such a pressing medical concern for affected individuals.
As only women will usually possess a uterus, it follows that only women are afflicted by this ailment, which is why gynecologists will often be the first ones to make a definite diagnosis. As with so many medical emergencies, knowing the problem early will greatly increase the chances of beating it, which is why the professionals at Pedes Orange County are dedicated to administering reliable, accurate, and entirely effective diagnostics, therapies, and treatments to all clients coming through our doors.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly we will be dealing with should uterine fibroids turn out to be the issue at hand.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
To understand what uterine fibroids are, the first thing one should do is separate the two terms making up the condition. A fibroid is a term used to refer to a type of tumor that has ‘muscular’ characteristics. They are also referred to as leiomyoma and can appear singularly or in formations or ‘lumps.’
They are known as uterine fibroids since they will appear in the patient’s uterus. Although they are not cancerous in almost all instances, they will range in size from patient to patient, from as small as an apple seed to as large as a grapefruit and beyond, in some unusual instances.
It is important for all women to be aware of the dangers presented by uterine fibroids, not only owing to the potential harm that the condition might bring about but due to the high rate of prevalence among the female population affected in some way.
By the time they are 50 years old, it is estimated that between 20 to 80 percent of women will have developed uterine fibroids, with most cases affecting women in the later stages of their reproductive years (the 40s to early 50s).
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
While the science is not completely settled on what exactly causes or is behind the formation of uterine fibroids in human beings, there are certain factors that researchers believe play significant roles in triggering their growth or development.
In 50 percent of cases, patients will be found to have some genetic abnormality. In many instances, some erroneous translocation will be discovered on some chromosomes.
While we may not be completely certain as to what lies at the root cause of uterine fibroids, it has been clearly demonstrated that hormones play a large role in determining their growth or progression. While a woman is pregnant, they will see rapid growth due to the presence of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Should the patient use anti-hormone medication, the opposite will happen – the fibroids will shrink. Furthermore, fibroids will stop growing or begin shrinking once a patient reaches menopause, which is the point at which these hormones also cease being produced in the female body.
Who is at Risk of Developing Uterine Fibroids?
There are certain natural circumstances, habits, and lifestyle choices that have been shown to come with an increased chance of developing uterine fibroids, as follow:
Symptoms to Look Out For
Fibroids go undiscovered in most patients due to the lack of symptoms accompanying them, but some patients will experience some symptoms, including:
- Frequent urination due to pressure being exerted on the patient’s bladder
- Lower back pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen, with severe and extremely rare instances causing the appearance of apparent pregnancy in the patient where none exists
- Heavy bleeding and/or painful bleeding during periods sometimes resulting in a medically significant depletion of blood in the patient (anemia)
- Greatly increased risks of complication during pregnancy and delivery, with uterine fibroid patients requiring cesarean sections at six times the average rate.
- Reproductive health problems such as infertility although are very rare outcomes.
Testing and Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids
In many cases, especially those whereby uterine fibroids do not present any noticeable symptoms for the patient, this condition will be discovered in a regular pelvic exam. This is a routine checkup carried out by gynecologists. While this checkup might determine the presence of a mass or lump on the uterus, further testing will have to be carried out to make a definite diagnosis. These testing methods include:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Note: Upon learning that fibroids are a type of tumor, the foremost concern for many patients is whether the tumor is cancerous or might predispose them in some way to developing cancer. Fibroids are rarely cancerous, with the chances of such fibroids (leiomyosarcomas) arising at less than one in a thousand. Additionally, the presence of fibroids in no way increases a patient’s chances of developing any type of cancer.
Treatment Options for Uterine Fibroids
The varied nature of uterine fibroid cases and how they affect different patients in different ways means that dealing with the condition has numerous different approaches. Consultations between patients, whether presenting with symptoms or not, and their physicians should be able to see them agree on a course of action that will satisfy the patient’s best interests. Aside from medication, the typical treatment for fibroids is traditional surgical procedures. At Pedes Orange County, we offer a minimally invasive treatment option that can be reviewed below:
Traditional Surgical Procedures
These are considered invasive surgeries that involve extensive physical intervention. They include:
- An abdominal myomectomy is an option mostly employed in cases where very large, very deeply embedded, or multiple fibroids are encountered. An open abdominal procedure is often the second-to-last option for patients who see hysterectomies as a last resort.
- Hysterectomy: This major surgical intervention involves the entire removal of the patient’s uterus and is the only guarantee against the recurrent development of uterine fibroids afterward. While most women will have the option of retaining their ovaries, some will have to undergo hormone replacement therapy if they are not to enter menopause.
Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedure (Uterine Fibroids Embolization by Pedes Orange County)
At Pedes Orange County, we specialize in Uterine Fibroids Embolization. This minimally invasive surgical procedure involves destroying fibroid masses without necessarily removing them entirely. The techniques are most commonly applied in clinical settings due to their effectiveness, proven track record, and minimal patient impact.
- Uterine artery embolization: (Also known as Uterine fibroid embolization). Embolic agents (small particles) will be introduced into arteries to block blood flow through them, thus starving fibroids of the nutrients needed for their survival and growth.
In surgical procedures that do not entirely remove the uterus, there will be a remaining risk of new uterine fibroid development in the future.
Why Uterine Artery Embolization (UFE) Instead of a Hysterectomy
Benefits of UFE Over Hysterectomy
Uterine artery embolization (UFE ) is a minimally invasive procedure that effectively treats uterine fibroids and is considered an alternative to uterine fibroid surgery removal. Uterine artery embolization (UFE) is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, which means that most women go home the same day for recovery.
UFE has several benefits over hysterectomy. Besides involving only a small nick in the groin or wrist for catheter insertion, the uterus is preserved. There is no scar with UFE. For a UFE, conscious sedation is used, unlike a hysterectomy, where the woman receives general anesthesia. The recovery time for UFE is generally within 2 weeks, which is significantly faster than the usual 6-week recovery time after hysterectomy.
Women who have a hysterectomy that removed both the uterus and ovaries usually get estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) alone. But women who have only the ovaries removed need both estrogen and progestin because estrogen alone can increase the risk of cancer in the uterus.
The recovery time for UFE is generally within 2 weeks, which is significantly faster than the usual 6-week recovery time after hysterectomy.
The idea of having your entire uterus removed is psychologically daunting for women as some women may still want the option to carry a child, do not want to undergo a general surgery, and/or feel like removing the uterus takes away part of their identity as a female.
What to Expect from Your Visit to Pedes
Your treatment will begin with an ultrasound examination of your veins, arteries, or both, in your legs to diagnose the presence and extent of the disease. Your test results will be immediately available to review with the doctor.
Once we review the results of your diagnostic tests, our physicians will help you develop a plan to provide you with the best treatment for your disease.
Depending on the extent of disease in your arteries or veins, our specialists may recommend minimally invasive intervention and/or prescribe medications to help your symptoms.
It is important to make sure that you return for every scheduled follow-up appointment to ensure that your disease is appropriately monitored. If you ever have any questions or concerns, please call or schedule a follow-up appointment with our staff.