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Millions of women plagued by common cause of infertility – that you’ve probably never heard of

WOMBS can seem like they have mysterious ways – especially if you’re trying for a baby.

One of the ways they can confound you is via fibroids, which according to the NHS, affect around two in three women, occurring primarily in those aged 30 to 50. 

You may not even know you have fibroids, but they can cause heavy bleeding and affect fertility

Fibroids, also known as uterine fibroids, are a form of non-cancerous growth which develop within the uterus, where an unborn baby develops and grows. 

These fibroids can form within the muscle wall of the uterus or the uterus cavity, and are composed of muscle and fibrous tissue.

The problem is, fibroids, of which there are three different types, can affect fertility, lessening a woman’s chances of conceiving and being able to carry a baby full time.

Sandy Christiansen is an embryologist and Fertility Coach at Bėa Fertility.

She says: “If you are diagnosed with fibroids by your GP, early intervention is crucial to minimising the potential impact they could have on your pregnancy.”

Struggling to conceive? Here are the symptoms that fibroids may be getting in your way, as well as several other conditions that could explain why falling pregnant might be difficult. 

What causes fibroids? 

Although it’s still relatively unknown as to how and why fibroids develop, studies have shown that their presence has been linked to oestrogen levels. 

“This means that they tend to develop during a woman’s reproductive years – specifically between the ages of 16 to 50. 

“After this point, during menopause, fibroids tend to shrink as oestrogen levels dip,” says Sandy.

There are a few other factors that are also linked to fibroids. 

“If other members of a woman’s family have been diagnosed with fibroids, it can increase the likelihood that they, too, will develop fibroids at some point in their lifetime. 

“Fibroids have also been found to develop earlier and be more common in women of African-Caribbean origin,” adds Sandy.

“If you fall into one of these categories and believe you might be at a higher risk of developing fibroids, or experience any symptoms, always get in touch with your GP or a specialist.” 

What can fibroids develop into?

“There are three main types of fibroid, each with different symptoms. 

“Symptoms differ for each individual and some women may not experience any symptoms at all. 

“This is why fibroids often go undetected,” says Sandy, who does add that a few common symptoms include dizziness, abdominal pain, heavy periods, painful sex and a need to frequently urinate.

Sandy says that in the most serious cases, fibroids can affect a woman’s ability to bear children or carry a baby to term, however this is uncommon.

“They [fibroids] can complicate pregnancy and at their most severe lead to infertility. 

“If you’re looking to get pregnant and have been diagnosed with fibroids, a doctor or fertility specialist will be able to support you to approach pregnancy safely.”

Sandy adds: “It’s important to raise awareness of the condition so that women who develop fibroids can seek advice and treatment early.”

Fibroids and fertility…

“Of the three types of fibroid, submucosal fibroids are most likely to lead to fertility problems as they grow within the inner lining of the uterus,” says Sandy.

“A submucosal fibroid can block a woman’s fallopian tube and prevent an egg from being released or being fertilised by sperm. 

“Depending on its size and position, this type of fibroid can also prevent a fertilised egg from attaching to the womb lining. 

“Women with large fibroids, or clusters of fibroids taking up lots of space in the uterus, may find it difficult to carry a child to full-term.”

Sandy does reiterate though that even having submucosal fibroids will not necessarily mean you’ll be unable to conceive.

Treating fibroids 

Luckily, there are several different treatments for fibroids. 

“Often, women will be prescribed medication or injections to shrink the growths,” says Jenny Saft, fertility expert and co-founder at Apryl.

“If you have larger fibroids, keyhole surgery can be an option to remove the growths. 

“In the most severe cases, a myomectomy or hysterectomy may be performed, but this is always a last resort and is rare.”

Jenny adds that as well as considering the size and location of fibroids, factors such as age, overall health, and whether a patient wishes to start a family in the future will play a part in treatment decisions.

“Women should always carefully consider their options and seek a professional medical opinion before embarking on any course of treatment,” says Jenny.

Other factors that may affect fertility

Around one in seven couples may have trouble conceiving, according to the NHS. 

Although fibroids may cause problems, these other conditions could also pose difficulties.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): “PCOS is a hormonal condition that can make it difficult to get pregnant by causing irregular menstrual cycles or inhibiting ovulation,” explains Jenny. 

“Often, women with PCOS will take medication to encourage the monthly release of an egg, in order to be able to conceive.”

Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, is another factor, which can affect both men and women’s fertility. 

“In men, it can lead to a lower sperm count, making it harder to conceive,” says Jenny who adds that in women, it can lead to lighter and more irregular periods which can make it more difficult to become pregnant. 

Hashimoto’s Disease: “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s disease, can also lead to pregnancy problems; it’s an autoimmune disease where the thyroid is eventually destroyed,” adds Jenny.

Endometriosis: Another condition known to affect fertility is endometriosis, which affects around 10% of reproductive age women globally.

“Endometriosis is a condition where the specialist lining of the womb grows outside of the uterus. 

“Up to 50 per cent of people with this condition are thought to struggle with their fertility,” reveals Jenny.

Other factors that can impact fertility include a reduced ovarian reserve, reduced egg quality and age. 

In fact, Jenny adds age is the biggest indicator for a woman’s fertility. 

“Women are born with all their egg cells. During their lifetime, not only does the number of available eggs decrease, but also their quality. 

“Most women are not aware that by the age of 35, their egg cell reserve is diminished. 

“Smoking is also a factor that can impact egg quality and ovarian reserves.”

Fertility test results showing up OK?

“Around 30 per cent of couples who are struggling to conceive will be diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’,” says Jenny.

“This is when you are struggling to conceive but have normal fertility test results and often doctors will recommend lifestyle changes and fertility treatments such as IVF.”

Sandy adds: “The term infertility can sound scary, but it doesn’t mean you’ll never become a parent. 

“There are a number of factors that can cause infertility and the cause will guide the treatments your doctor recommends.”

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