124 Million May Have Uterine Fibroids
Fibroids’ main symptom, bigtime bloat, can make you look knocked up when you’re not. And like endometriosis and PCOS, they can cause extra-heavy bleeding and gutwrenching cramps during your period, as well as constant pressure on your bladder or rectum. That said, some sufferers show zero symptoms.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes these balls of muscle (which can range from the size of a grape to a honeydew melon) to grow in the uterus, but new research suggests that exposure to phthalates (chemicals found in plastics and personal-care products) may play a part. Because fibroids feed on estrogen, they can become a nuisance during pregnancy, when female hormone levels run high, says Lissa Rankin, M.D., an ob-gyn in Mill Valley, California. They also share living space with the fetus, increasing the risk of miscarriage or preterm birth.
While fibroids are relatively simple to diagnose—usually with an ultrasound or MRI— deciding on a treatment isn’t so easy. Birth-control pills and hormone-disrupting meds can shrink the masses, but the ultimate fix is a hysterectomy— a drastic step for young women. However, there are newer, less severe treatments that can help eliminate fibroids: myolysis (laser removal), myomectomy (surgical removal), and uterine artery embolization (the injection of foam into arteries to cut off fibroids’ blood supply). Also showing early promise are two noninvasive experimental treatments: radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat energy to destroy any unwarranted growths, and MRI-guided ultrasound surgery, which blasts fibroids into smithereens.