Andrew Siegel MD 1/9/16
Fibroids are muscular growths that develop within the womb that can put direct pressure on the next door neighbor of the uterus–the urinary bladder. This compression can give rise to a host of annoying urinary symptoms including urinary urgency, frequency, urinary leakage and difficulty urinating.
Although fibroids usually grow within the uterine wall, at times they do so internally into the uterine cavity or, alternatively, externally on the outside of the uterus. They are virtually always benign and much of the time they do not cause symptoms. When symptomatic they may cause the following: heavy uterine bleeding; pelvic pressure; a swollen and distended lower abdomen; urinary and bowel issues; pelvic and lower back pain; pain with sexual intercourse; as well as fertility problems, reproductive issues and complications of pregnancy (breech births, failure of labor to progress, the need for C-section, preterm delivery, and bleeding following delivery).
The most common presenting symptom of uterine fibroids is uterine bleeding, which often begins as prolonged menstruation and can be severe enough to cause a low blood count. Fibroids are problems of the reproductive years, prevalent in women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They can be solitary or multiple, range in size from tiny to huge and vary in location within the uterus. The largest fibroids can outgrow their blood supply and undergo degenerative changes. When extremely large, they can distort the lower abdomen, simulating pregnancy. Fibroids are “tumors”–-although benign–- that microscopically consist of interlacing bundles of smooth muscle surrounded by condensed uterine tissue. There is a genetic basis for fibroids with an increased prevalence in women with a family history. Obesity increases one’s risk for fibroids.
The growth of uterine fibroids is largely controlled by estrogen, the key female sex hormone. Fibroids tend to grow rapidly during pregnancy and regress after menopause when estrogen production ceases.
The presence of fibroids may significantly impair one’s quality of life. Because of the pressure they apply against the typically balloon-thin female urinary bladder, they often cause urinary symptoms, much as in pregnancy when an enlarged uterus compresses the bladder. Urinary symptoms most often occur when the fibroids are located closest to the bladder and/or urethra. Typical symptoms include urinary urgency, frequency and stress urinary incontinence (leakage of urine with sneezing, coughing, and exertion). Symptoms are proportionate to the size of the fibroid, with larger fibroids causing more significant symptoms. On occasion, a fibroid can cause an obstruction of the urinary tract, impairing one’s ability to empty their bladder, sometimes requiring the placement of a urinary catheter to alleviate the obstruction.
On pelvic examination, fibroids can often be recognized as pelvic masses. Thye can be further evaluated with imaging studies, including ultrasound, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. They characteristically cause a “popcorn” appearing calcification on abdominal radiographs.
Those fibroids that do not cause symptoms or bleeding do not require treatment. There are numerous pharmacological options for symptomatic fibroids including medications that lower estrogen levels that cause suppression and shrinkage of the fibroids. Surgery may be required when there is an inadequate response to conservative measures. Surgical options include removing or destroying the uterine lining to control heavy bleeding, deliberately blocking the blood supply to the fibroid, surgical removal of one or more of the fibroids and, at times, removing the entire uterus (hysterectomy).
Bottom Line: As a urologist, I not uncommonly see women with urinary urgency, frequency, incontinence or urinary obstruction caused by one or more uterine fibroids pushing and compressing the bladder or urethra. It is usually very obvious on pelvic ultrasound or cystoscopy (visual inspection of the bladder), where the fibroid can be seen to cause extrinsic compression. The good news is that such fibroids are eminently manageable, which most often resolves the urinary issues.
Wishing you the best of health and a very happy New Year,
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Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: www.MalePelvicFitness.com. In the works is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health.
Co-creator of Private Gym, a comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training program. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, Private Gym empowers men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon.
Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, benign uterine tumors, bladder, estrogen, frequency, overactive bladder, stress urinary incontinence, urethra, urgency, urgency incontinence, urinary bladder, uterine bleeding, uterine fibroids, uterus, womb