Most people with a uterus will develop at least one uterine fibroid during their reproductive lifespan. In the US, it's estimated that 26 million people with uteruses between the ages of 15 and 50 have uterine fibroids. Fibroids may not affect everyone, but for some, they can cause a lot of pain and impact their everyday life.
If you're active or are ready to include more physical activity into your lifestyle, it is safe to exercise with fibroids, but the type of exercise will depend on variables like your fitness level, where the fibroids are located in your uterus, and the style of training that you partake in. Before diving into exercising with fibroids, we're going to explain what fibroids are and what causes them.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
"Fibroids are simply noncancerous growths of muscle that form inside the uterus," Kristamarie Collman, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician told POPSUGAR. Fibroids are also called leiomyomas and are referred to as tumors, but Dr. Collman said they are not cancerous. They can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many in the uterus. The size of fibroids can range from as small as an apple to as large as a grapefruit, but rarely do they become extremely large.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
"The exact cause of fibroids is unknown, but is thought to be due to a combination of factors," Dr. Collman explained. There is research that shows that fibroids respond to certain hormones and some people may have specific genes that put them at greater risk for getting uterine fibroids, she said. "Having family members with fibroids can increase your risk," Dr. Collman explained. Some may also experience fibroids during pregnancy, and according to Dr. Collman, fibroids tend to shrink after one goes through menopause.
"If you have a uterus and have hormones released in the body, (from your ovaries or even from fat cells), you can make fibroids," she explained. Fibroids are very common, with 70 to 80 percent of people with uteruses experiencing fibroids in their lifetime, and some may not have bothersome symptoms, Dr. Collman said. Your age, family history, ethnicity, and lifestyle factors can all increase your risk for fibroids.
Is It Safe to Exercise With Fibroids?
If you have fibroids and want to start or continue physical activity, Dr. Collman said, for the most part, it's safe to exercise with fibroids. "Sometimes exercising can help to relieve pain, help individuals maintain a healthy weight, or even slow the growth of fibroids," she explained. But, sometimes fibroids can interfere with your ability to exercise, and this is contingent upon where the fibroids are located in the uterus and your fitness level.
If you have fibroids, Dr. Collman recommends light jogging or walking exercises, which may help you maintain a weight that is healthy for you, yoga or Pilates to strengthen your muscles, and light weight training. "I would caution participation in intense physical activities that are very strenous on the body, unless directly recommended by your doctor," she said.
What Are Symptoms of Fibroids and How Can They Be Treated?
Some people may never experience any symptoms indicating they have fibroids, whereas others may have symptoms that "wreak havoc on your life," Dr. Collman said. "The most common symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding and lower pelvic pressure. Other symptoms may include back pain, pain during sex, or even fertility and pregnancy issues," she continued. The location of the fibroid can also cause different symptoms. For example, if a fibroid is pressing on your bladder, you may find that you have to urinate frequently, or if it's pressing on your intestines, you may experience frequent constipation, Dr. Collman explained.
There are numerous treatment options available, and it's important to discuss the best option with your healthcare provider. "Most importantly, you want to be sure to ask what the risks and benefits are of those options and discuss whether you would like to have children in the future," she said. Getting second opinions and doing your own research can also help you make the most informed choice for your health.
If your fibroids aren't causing any symptoms, such as heavy bleeding or pain, they typically don't require treatment and observation may be an option, according to Dr. Collman. If you do have symptoms, there are both surgical and nonsurgical options. The nonsurgical options include both hormonal and nonhormonal medications, which may help improve menstrual bleeding symptoms and may possibly shrink the size of the fibroid.
Surgical procedures include a myomectomy, where the fibroid is removed and the uterus is left in place. "A procedure called uterine artery embolization allows doctors to cut off the blood supply to the fibroid, which causes it to shrink," Dr. Collman said. People can also opt for a hysterectomy, which is the removal of the entire uterus; this is a last resort option for people who don't want to give birth in the future, Dr. Collman explained. Because there are many options to treat fibroids available, Dr. Collman emphasized speaking at length with your medical provider about your needs and individual situation.
What Happens If Uterine Fibroids Go Undiagnosed and Untreated?
If your fibroids aren't causing any symptoms, you can continue to live your life with them and successfully get pregnant and give birth without any issues, if that's your goal. But, for some, if fibroids go untreated, they can increase in size and contribute to more serious symptoms, such as infertility, based on their location.
Fibroids are very common and won't cause complications for most, but it's still advised to get regular check-ups and communicate with your medical provider about any changes, symptoms, or issues you may be having to maintain and improve your overall health and well-being.