Uterine fibroids are common, usually benign, growths in the uterine wall. They can occur singly or in clusters and range in size from tiny (1 mm/.04 inches in diameter) to very large (20 cm/8 inches in diameter or more). Up to 80 percent of women will develop at least one by the time they’re 50 years old. For some women, fibroids do not cause any symptoms and require no treatment. However, one type of fibroid, known as a submucosal fibroid, has a greater association with troubling symptoms.
What Is a Submucosal Fibroid?
Fibroids are differentiated by where they grow in the uterus. Intramural fibroids are those that grow within the muscle wall of the uterus. Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus, expanding outward into the pelvic cavity. Submuscosal fibroids, the least common type, grow just beneath the endometrium (the uterine lining) and into the space inside the uterus as they increase in size.
While any kind of fibroid can be accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms, submucosal fibroids are associated with heavy menstrual bleeding, due to their location. Even small submucosal fibroids can cause problems. Some symptoms are:
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Prolonged periods
- Anemia caused by heavy bleeding (sometimes severe)
- Pelvic and/or lower back pain
- Passing large or frequent blood clots
These symptoms can increase in severity over time, impairing both quality of life and overall health.
Who Is at Risk?
Nobody knows exactly what causes fibroids, but there are known risk factors that can increase the chance of developing one.
Age: The odds of developing a fibroid increase after age 30, continuing through menopause.
Family history: If other members of your family have had fibroids, you are at increased risk of having one. If your mother had fibroids, your risk is about three times higher than average.
Ethnicity: Black women are up to three times more likely than white women to develop fibroids.
Hormones: Levels of estrogen and progesterone appear to influence the growth of fibroids.
Body shape and size: Being overweight increases the risk of fibroids.
Diet: Increased incidence of fibroids is associated with diets heavy in red meat, low in fruits and vegetables, and high in food additives. Alcohol consumption also increases risk.
Number of children: Having multiple births decreases the chance of developing fibroids while having never given birth increases it.
UFE for Submucosal Fibroids
Because they are more likely to cause troublesome symptoms, submucosal fibroids are also more likely to require medical intervention to relieve pain and bleeding. One important consideration in the choice of treatment is preserving fertility for women who want to have children. While a hysterectomy (complete surgical removal of the uterus) is often recommended for women experiencing significant symptoms from fibroid tumors, it makes childbearing impossible and is a major surgery requiring weeks of recovery time. Myomectomy (surgical removal of the fibroids) can be accomplished laparoscopically and preserves the uterus, but it is still a surgery with the associated risks and necessity for general anesthesia.
When retaining the ability to have children is a high priority but the patient would like to avoid stressful, invasive interventions, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) should be considered. UFE is a safe and effective option that can offer relief through a minimally invasive outpatient procedure. This treatment technique shrinks fibroids by blocking their blood supply with particles targeted precisely into the small blood vessels via a catheter. Unlike surgical options, it can be done under moderate IV sedation, and the recovery time is greatly reduced (usually under a week). Most importantly, it relieves the painful, debilitating symptoms of submucosal fibroids without taking away the potential to become pregnant.
Treatment in Southern California
At the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center, board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist Dr. Omar Saleh can evaluate your case to determine if you are a good candidate for UFE. With convenient locations in Corona, Chino, and Colton, we can help you get back on the road to health quickly. To find out more about the possibility of treating submucosal fibroids with uterine fibroid embolization, or to book an appointment, contact us here.