Uterine fibroids becoming more common after childbirth

As the “Baby Boomer” generation reaches middle age, more and more women are experiencing the condition of uterine fibroids. These noncancerous growths, also called myomas, can appear inside or outside the uterus and are most common in women aged 30 to 50.

Fibroids develop from the cells that make up the muscle of the uterus, and they can be as small as a pea or as large as a football. They occur in about 20 to 25 percent of all reproductive-age women, but the reasons why some women are more prone to fibroids are poorly understood. The hormone oestrogen seems to increase their growth, and fibroids often shrink or disappear after menopause.

Many women experience no problems with their fibroids, and often need to do nothing at all other than get regular checkups. Although fibroids occasionally complicate pregnancy, often they do not cause problems for mother or baby. Rarely, a large fibroid can block the opening of the uterus, making caesarean delivery necessary.

Fibroids can be a problem if their size or location cause you to experience heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain or infertility. Fibroids do not automatically lead to Fertility problems, however, so explore other possible causes with your doctor before assuming fibroids are to blame. Many women are able to become pregnant after surgical removal of the growths.

In the past, the most common treatment for problem fibroids was hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus. Today, if there is a reason to remove problem fibroids, a woman may have the option of a myomectomy surgery that removes the fibroids but preserves the uterus. There are three different types of procedures, and their selection will depend on the size, number and location of fibroids.

In laparoscopy, a slender telescope is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to help remove fibroids growing outside the uterus. Hysteroscopy may help to remove growths inside the uterus, using a thin telescope inserted through the cervix. These two procedures usually do not require an overnight hospital stay and have a brief recovery period. In some situations, major abdominal surgery may be needed. This can involve a three-to-four-day hospital stay, and about one month of recovery.

Sometimes drugs known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists can help shrink fibroids temporarily. They may be prescribed to shrink fibroids prior to surgery.

If you are diagnosed with problem fibroids, remember that you may have more options than you think.

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