Uterine fibroids or myomas are benign tumours that grow within the muscle tissue of the uterus. They are quite common, with approximately 50% of women of childbearing age having at least one fibroid. They can range in size from very small to being as large as a melon. They are differentiated according to their location: Sub-serous, Intramural and Sub-mucous.
While many women may not even be aware they have fibroids, as they do not experience any symptoms or problems, symptoms can be quite severe in some cases. The main symptoms experienced are: very heavy and prolonged menstrual periods with clots, pelvic pain, lower back pain, pain down the thighs, pain during intercourse, bleeding between periods, pressure on the bladder (leading to frequent urination or incontinence) and pressure on the bowel (leading to constipation, bloating and fullness).
Fibroids can affect fertility depending on their size and location in the uterus. If they are distorting or obstructing the uterine cavity or fallopian tubes they are a physical impediment to fertilization, implantation and/or development of an embryo. During pregnancy fibroids may grow due to increased oestrogen and blood flow, causing premature delivery. If the fibroid does not affect the lining of the uterus it may be harmless and have little effect on fertility.
The cause of fibroids is unknown, however the growth appears to be dependent on oestrogen. Western medical treatment usually involves surgical removal of the fibroids, however other options include hysterectomy, hormone therapy and uterine artery embolization. It is important to note that often when fibroids are surgically removed they can regrow, so steps need to be taken to minimise their reoccurrence.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective fibroids are a type of “abdominal mass” due to Blood stasis, sometimes in combination with Phlegm. There are a number of underlying internal pathologies, the main ones being Spleen and Kidney Yang deficiency, Liver Qi Stagnation and Cold in the uterus.