Uterine fibroids are one of the most common reproductive health issues, yet most women are unaware of this condition until they are diagnosed with it. There is no doubt that the gender pain gap plays a role in this lack of awareness in the general population.
Like endometriosis, adenomyosis, and other disorders related to the uterus, uterine fibroids can result in extremely painful periods. Keep reading to learn about fibroid symptoms, different types of fibroids, and what can be done about them.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumours that can grow inside and on the uterus. This condition affects an incredible 70% of women in the general population (Stewart et al., 2017), meaning most women will develop fibroids by age 50. In many cases, a woman may be asymptomatic and never know if they have them.
Uterine fibroids are a salient example of how the gender pain gap interacts with race. Black women are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids compared with white women, though it is not understood why (Stewart et al., 2017).
Fibroids can have a significant negative impact on the quality of life, especially for racial minorities and women of lower socioeconomic status (Marsh et al., 2018). This is not surprising given the long history of doctors dismissing women’s pain, particularly that of black women. This highlights the need to apply an intersectional lens to issues that cause period pain and ovarian pain.
Types of Fibroids
Fibroids are made of muscle and connective tissue and are classified into three main types, depending on which part of the uterus they grow on.
- Intramural fibroids grow within the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Submucosal fibroids grow on the inside of the uterus.
- Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus.
A woman can have just one type or all three types of fibroids, and they can range in number, size, shape, and location. The size and location of the fibroids are likely what determines the level of discomfort in the lower abdomen, which can range from no pain to intense pain.
What Causes and What are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?
Now that you what uterine fibroids are, you’re probably wondering about the causes of fibroids and what fibroid symptoms to look out for.
Like many other conditions that leave women in pain, woefully little is known about the causes of uterine fibroids. Given that they are so common in women of childbearing age, it is indeed a puzzle as to why. Risk factors for uterine fibroids include a family history of fibroids on the maternal side, starting menstruation at an early age, not having children, obesity, and nutrition-related factors.
Although the causes are unknown, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are thought to promote the growth of fibroids. In other words, if you have fibroids, they are likely to continue to grow as long you are menstruating.
When you hear about abnormal growth, it’s natural to worry about cancer. Fortunately, uterine fibroids are not associated with an increased risk of cancer and are almost always benign. Black women are likely to develop uterine fibroids at an earlier age than other women, making them more likely to have larger fibroids and accompanying severe symptoms.
Because uterine fibroids can range from a tiny size that isn’t even detectable by the human eye to large masses the size of a watermelon, the symptoms vary. For women who don’t experience intense pain or other symptoms, fibroids may be discovered accidentally during a pelvic exam or a routine prenatal ultrasound (Lumsden et al., 2015).
In women who do have fibroid symptoms, these can include heavy menstrual bleeding, longer than normal periods, pain during sex (dyspareunia), and extremely painful period cramps that cause back or leg pain. Some women may experience a feeling of pressure in the pelvic area or pelvic pain even when not menstruating.
In cases when a uterine fibroid is large enough to press on the bladder, frequent urination can also be a symptom. Large fibroids can also distort the uterus and cause your abdomen to enlarge as if you are pregnant. Intense pain can result when a fibroid grows too big for its blood supply and starts to die.
Do Not Ignore Your Pain – Speak Up!
Untreated pain is the worst kind of pain, so we encourage all menstruators to speak up and speak loud about period pain. When doctors downplay women’s health concerns it can lead to delayed diagnosis and psychological difficulties due to untreated pain. All over the world, there is a dire need for improved diagnosis, treatment, and access to care for uterine fibroids, especially for women of colour (Aninye and Laitner, 2021).
Let’s Not Leave Pain Untreated – Learn More About OVY’s Way to Help With Uterine Discomfort
AIMA is hard at work to narrow the pain gap so that women in pain get the same treatment as men in pain. One way we’re doing so is the development of a safe, effective, and menstruator-centric form of support for period discomfort.
The OVY is a CBD-enhanced vaginal suppository that provides fast, localized relief by acting on cannabinoid receptors located in the reproductive tract. Unlike non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are often used to combat period pain, OVY does not pose any risk for women with ulcers, asthma, or bleeding disorders.
Let’s work together to eliminate the gender pain gap – email us if you have a story about uterine fibroids that you’d like to share to spread awareness (#myperiodstory)!