In its educational information for patients, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) lists a distended abdomen or fibroid belly as one of the possible side effects of developing uterine fibroids. In women with fibroids (also called leiomyomas or myomas), a fibroid belly can also signal that two things may have changed. First, one or more fibroids may have grown so much that they are now causing a distended abdomen (fibroid belly) and increased body weight. Second, the uterus may now have developed clusters of smaller fibroids which, depending on the cluster's number and component size, can also lead to fibroid belly. While a "fibroid belly" may seem scary or unsightly, physicians and oncologists do not associate uterine fibroids with an increased risk of uterine cancer. However, ifa fibroid or fibroid cluster has reached a level where it is distorting your physical appearance, it may be time to seek help and medical treatment. Below we cover what fibroid bellies are, risk levels, and what steps your doctor may take to help. Table of Contents
Yes, they can. As we know, fibroids range in size, and some are so small that, without a pelvic or other diagnostic examination, some women don't even know they have them. According to The Cleveland Clinic, fibroids can "range in size from 1 mm to more than 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter or even larger. For comparison, they can get as large as the size of a watermelon." So no prizes for guessing that these larger or clustered fibroids will inevitably increase your overall body weight--sometimes by as much as 10 lbs--the size of a full-term or newly born baby. In fact, when assessing a patient's fibroid belly, women's health experts often use pregnancy-speak to gauge or assess a woman's possible or associated risks.
As you can see from the pictures below, fibroids can cause significant abdominal enlargement.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Women's Health (OASH), up to 80% of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50, though fibroids can occur at any age. Growth rates can vary and fibroids present via a variety of symptoms, ranging from pelvic pain, to backaches, to extended or heavy menstruation to constipation. The good news: Women's health experts and oncologists have found that, in most cases, uterine fibroids do not signal cancer. More good news: Even among symptomatic women, a relatively small number will develop a noticeable fibroid belly. For those who have been diagnosed, an extra large fibroid or cluster does not always translate to a health risk. Broadly speaking, the larger a fibroid becomes, the more it presses against other abdominal organs (think pelvic pain, discomfort, bloated feeling), and the more likely it is that your stomach will appear distended or "pregnant." Add to these the physical stresses of carrying up to 10lbs of extra weight, including the fact that it may be more challenging to engage in the HHS-recommended level of daily activity and aerobic exercise. And lower exercise levels can also lead to "normal" weight gain and increased stress levels.
Call it the proverbial "chicken and egg" scenario or conundrum. In terms of causality, clinical studies have shown that overweight women can be as much as three times as likely to develop fibroids, and most medical experts cite obesity as a risk factor. In terms of symptomatology, women with diagnosed or suspected fibroids--particularly large or clustered fibroids--are prone to adding to their weight via a distended abdomen and, by extension, suffering related discomforts and a host of non-weight symptoms. PHYSICIAN INSIGHT As a doctor who treats fibroids daily, I have seen fibroid growths as large as ten pounds affect patients from thin to overweight or tall to short. In fact, we've had several patients who assume that "if I am healthy and in shape, my fibroids will not cause me to gain weight." This, sadly, is false. Your bathroom scales are telling you that your weight falls well within or below the recommended level for your height, age and body mass? Fibroid-induced weight gain is still possible. In other words, a fibroid belly can affect anyone. If you are overweight or have a high body mass index (BMI), make sure to get regular checkups with your doctor as you may be at a higher risk of developing fibroids.
Though there are few sure-fire reasons for fibroids, doctors believe that these non-cancerous tumors develop from a stem cell in the smooth muscular tissue of the uterus (myometrium). A single cell divides repeatedly, eventually creating a firm, rubbery mass that feeds off your body's blood supply and hormones, such as estrogen. Therefore, most treatment options will aim to halt the growth of fibroids in order to also halt or eliminate the symptoms, including abdominal distension. While many experts advise weight loss and dietary changes to manage fibroid symptoms, losing weight will not decrease the actual size of a fibroid or fibroid cluster. While there are foods and dietary supplements that may provide momentary relief from symptoms like heavy menstrual bleeding or cramping, there is no such thing as a prescribed or fool-proof "fibroid diet." The bottom line: To treat or eliminate the symptoms--including that fibroid belly--we must treat the fibroids.
Depending on each patient's diagnosis, medical presentation and fertility goals, there are many fibroid treatment options, including uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a 90-minute, outpatient procedure that can treat all of your fibroids at once. Helped specializes in connecting folks who are seeking fibroid treatment with doctors in their area who can provide minimally invasive procedures like UFE. To learn more about uterine fibroid embolization, reach out to one of our Care Coordinators. Generally speaking, women notice relief from symptoms within four to six weeks after uterine fibroid embolization, which is significantly quicker and longer-lasting than many other treatment options. To learn more about uterine fibroid embolization, and check if you're a candidate for the procedure, take the Helped quiz. Read more about how it works on our website. Or ask for a free telephone consultation with one of our care coordinators.
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