Many factors can interfere with your ability to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby. Whether uterine fibroids have an impact on your fertility depends on the way these benign tumors affect the parts of the uterus that support healthy conception, pregnancy, and delivery.
At The Association for Women’s Health Care, our OB/GYNs specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of fibroids. We use the latest diagnostic tools and treatments to assess the effect of fibroids on various aspects of your health.
When fibroids affect fertility, we determine the most effective method for treating the condition and improving your chances of conception.
Fibroids, also called fibromyomas or myomas, develop as benign, or noncancerous, muscular tumors. They can grow inside your uterus, on its exterior surface, or on the uterine wall. Fibroids can range from as small as a seed to as large as a melon and can change their size over time.
While there’s no single cause for fibroids, the condition is linked to genetics, hormonal factors related to levels of estrogen and progesterone, and changes in the extracellular matrix (ECM), the material that helps cells stick together.
Fibroids usually develop during your childbearing years, when your estrogen levels are highest. Up to 30% of all women are affected by fibroids by age 25, while up to 80% of women develop fibroids by age 50.
Fibroids most often affect women in their 30s and 40s. But fibroids tend to develop at younger ages and grow at an accelerated rate in African American women.
While you may have fibroids without any symptoms, the condition often causes lower back pain, painful sex, and pelvic pressure. Fibroids are also associated with symptoms so severe that they affect your daily life with painful periods, frequent urination, heavy bleeding between periods, and trouble voiding.
Whether fibroids affect your fertility depends on the characteristics of the tumors, which is why the impact of fibroids on fertility varies by the individual. No two fibroids are the same. There are three types of fibroids:
Intramural fibroids, the most common type, are located in the wall of the uterus and make the uterus feel larger than normal as they expand.
Subserosal fibroids grow on the outer wall of the uterus and are the most likely to cause pain because of the pressure they exert on nearby organs as they grow outward.
Submucosal fibroids, the least common type, grow under the inner lining of the uterus and protrude into the uterine cavity, where they are the most likely to cause bleeding problems.
Most women with fibroids aren’t infertile. While fibroids exist in 5-10% of infertile women, it’s likely to be the primary cause of infertility in less than 3%. When fibroids pose problems, they can interfere with fertility in the following ways:
Fibroids can also interfere with your ability to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Women who have fibroids during pregnancy can have a higher risk of pregnancy complications and problems with delivery.
The size and location of some tumors can force the baby into an abnormal position that can trigger pain, placental abruption (premature separation of the placenta from the uterus), miscarriage, or preterm labor.
When fibroids cause extreme pain, we may prescribe one of several medications to relieve your symptoms.
If you have large or multiple fibroids that are interfering with your ability to get pregnant, you may benefit from minimally invasive treatments or surgery to shrink or remove fibroids while leaving your uterus intact.
We weigh treatment for fibroids during pregnancy against maintaining the safety of your unborn baby.
Find out more about the ways that fibroids and other factors can affect your fertility. Contact our Chicago or Northbrook, Illinois, office to arrange a consultation.