What are the Gastrointestinal Impacts of Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop in or on the uterine walls. Sometimes, these growths can affect the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and digestive system, although it’s not a direct impact. The influence on digestion is often indirect and varies from person to person. Not everyone with fibroids will experience these adverse effects, but if you do, it’s important to understand what that means for your health and overall well-being. Below, we’ll discuss why and how fibroids lead to gastrointestinal problems and what treatment options are available to combat them at American Fibroid Centers in New York and New Jersey.
Why Can Uterine Fibroids Cause Digestive Problems?
Uterine fibroids affect nearly 80% of women by 50 years old. If you are one of the millions of American women diagnosed with fibroids, you may be wondering if they’re what’s causing your digestive issues. Fibroids can grow inside the uterus (submucosal), within the uterine wall (intramural), or outside the uterus (subserosal). The types of symptoms you experience will depend on the location and size of your fibroids, as well as how many are present.
When fibroids grow within or outside the uterus near the bladder, rectum, gastric, or digestive system, they can cause digestive problems. If they become large enough or close enough to these areas, fibroids can completely block the colon or rectum and lead to severe constipation or strong and frequent urges to use the bathroom. The uterus already sits close to the colon, making it easy for fibroids to interfere with the digestive tract as they grow.
How Do Uterine Fibroids Affect the Gastrointestinal Tract?
In many cases, women with uterine fibroids are not even aware of their presence and do not require medical treatment for the condition. However, for others, they can impact daily life and cause significant pain and discomfort. It is not uncommon for women with fibroids to experience a variety of digestive problems, such as bloating, constipation, and, sometimes, abnormal GI bleeding. The following are some ways in which fibroids can affect the gastrointestinal tract. If any of these symptoms apply to you, it’s crucial to meet with a specialist for a physical exam and further testing, if needed, as soon as possible:
Pressure on Surrounding Organs
Large fibroids can put pressure on surrounding organs, including the bladder and intestines. This pressure may lead to symptoms such as abdominal bloating, discomfort, or a sensation of fullness. It is possible to confuse the feeling of bloating due to fibroids with gastric problems. When talking to a fibroid specialist about your symptoms, it is helpful to be specific about what you’re experiencing and pinpoint exactly where the discomfort is coming from.
Fibroids that develop in the back of the uterus can press against the colon and rectum, interfering with bowel movements. This, in turn, can lead to serious constipation, making it difficult for stool to pass through. Untreated constipation can cause other issues, such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal bleeding, rectal prolapse, and even fecal impaction. It’s worth noting that women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding with fibroids may be required to take iron supplements. These supplements sometimes lead to constipation as well.
Frequent Urination and Urinary Symptoms
Depending on the type of fibroids you have, they might press against the bladder and urethra. Sometimes, fibroids can grow to the size of a melon, mimicking the feeling of a second-trimester pregnancy. When the uterus expands, it can put excess pressure on the bladder and cause it to shrink to a smaller size. If the bladder is squeezed enough, it can lead to frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder fully.
Alteration in Pelvic Blood Flow
In some cases, fibroids can impact blood flow in the pelvic region through several mechanisms. When large fibroids exert pressure on nearby blood vessels, including arteries and veins, the compression can disrupt normal blood flow to the uterus and surrounding pelvic organs. This altered blood flow may even extend to and affect the GI tract, causing symptoms such as bloating or changes in bowel habits.
Impact on Nutritional Status
Chronic, heavy menstrual bleeding is one of the common symptoms of uterine fibroids. For some women, this can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, including the digestive organs. When there’s a shortage of this protein, women may experience impaired nutrient absorption, slowed digestive motility, a weakened immune system, and more.
How to Know If Fibroids Are Causing Your Digestive Issues
Keep in mind that uterine fibroids can cause digestive issues indirectly. Fibroids contribute to bloating and weight gain whenever estrogen levels rise and fall, such as during pregnancy and menopause. Minimal or early signs of bloating due to fibroids can sometimes feel gastrointestinal or similar to bloating during a regular menstrual cycle. Also, constipation can occur from increased iron intake to relieve fibroid symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding or anemia rather than the fibroids themselves.
Determining whether fibroids are the cause of your digestive issues involves a combination of self-awareness, monitoring symptoms, and consulting with a healthcare professional. Consider the following steps to understand your unique situation and inform decisions regarding your treatment:
- Be mindful of symptoms
- Keep a symptom journal
- Consult with a gynecologist
- Be mindful of other causes
- Diagnostic imaging tests
- Consider second opinions
Non-Surgical Treatment for Fibroids in New York & New Jersey
American Fibroid Centers offers comprehensive non-surgical treatment for uterine fibroids at our office locations in New York and New Jersey. Our board-certified, affiliated physicians are highly skilled in endovascular procedures, including uterine fibroid embolization, to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by fibroids. If you are experiencing digestive issues related to your condition, don’t wait for the care you need. One of our affiliated physicians will evaluate your symptoms, confirm your diagnosis, and determine the best treatment option. Contact us at your nearest outpatient center in NY or NJ to schedule an appointment today!
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