Fibroid Pain: Beyond the Uterus
Fibroid Pain: Beyond the Uterus
Do you wake up at night to use the bathroom, or feel full faster than you used to? Fibroids can affect the rectum, bladder, stomach, and kidneys too.
By Julie Davis
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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“Fibroids are like fingerprints — no two are ever alike,” says Steven Goldstein, MD, board-certified ob-gyn at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York. What determines how much pain and discomfort they cause is not necessarily size, butwherethey’re growing. “It’s like real estate — location, location, location,” says Dr. Goldstein.
Fibroids are made of the muscle tissue found in the uterus, but their location isn’t limited to inside the uterine cavity. They can also grow on the outside of the uterus, and within the uterine walls, and can even attach themselves to the uterus by a stem of sorts.
And especially for woman whose fibroids are growing outside of the uterus, other organs can be affected, too.
Apart from pelvic symptoms like pain, heavy bleeding, and possibly infertility, fibroids can also cause problems with bladder and bowel elimination. This happens when fibroids affect the urinary and G.I. systems, leading to a variety of side effects.
The Effects of Fibroids on Other Organs
Fibroids can have a chain reaction effect that includes:
- The rectum.A large enough fibroid can push down on the rectum, making bowel movements difficult. “If the fibroid is on the underside of the uterus, you could have constipation or pain when defecating,” explains John C. Petrozza, MD, board-certified ob-gyn and chief of reproductive medicine and IVF at Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in Boston. Hemorrhoids can be another unpleasant result of rectal pressure and difficulty moving your bowels.
- The bladder.“If the fibroid is on the other side of the uterus, growing toward your bladder, you might find you get up three or four times a night to go to the bathroom — you don’t have the capacity to hold urine because of it,” says Dr. Petrozza. In addition to having to urinate more often, you might have difficulty or pain while urinating.
- The stomach.Pelvic symptoms of fibroids include feeling like you have a full stomach. A fibroid can push up to your stomach creating “early satiety,” explains Petrozza. You feel full faster and may not be able to eat as much as previously, oftentimes leading to weight loss. If the fibroid grows big enough, your lower abdomen can look enlarged, as though you were pregnant.
- The kidneys.In very rare instances, says Goldstein, a fibroid can grow large enough to affect the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney and the bladder. If the flow of urine is backed up because of a fibroid pressing on a ureter, the back-pressure can cause the kidney to swell, a condition called hydronephrosis. Symptoms may include painful urination, a greater urge to go or going more often, and pain on one side. Kidney damage may result. In this case, in Goldstein’s opinion, the only option is surgery to remove the fibroid.
Treating Fibroids When Other Organs Are Affected
Still, despite the potential effects of fibroids, some women do nothing to treat them. “The fibroids typically will grow at a certain rate per year, and a lot of women just grow into their symptoms and minimize them,” says Petrozza. “However, if you’re 40, for example, you may have another 11 to 12 years before menopause, when they [fibroids] typically stop growing.” That’s a long time to put up with the discomfort you’re experiencing.
Talk to your doctor about how best to manage your fibroids. There are a variety of fibroids treatments that may help, from medication to surgical techniques, some designed to preserve fertility if you want to have children. But keep in mind, as Petrozza cautions, that the longer you wait and the bigger they get, the fewer fibroid treatment options you'll have.
Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: 4 myths about fibroids
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