Many factors influence a woman’s fertility, and one potential factor affecting as many as 20 to 50% of women of childbearing age is uterine fibroids. This medical issue is especially prevalent among black women, who are affected at a rate of 50 to 80%.
However, only about 30% of women with uterine fibroids develop symptoms, and many women with fibroids go on to conceive and carry healthy pregnancies without issue. The relationship between uterine fibroids and infertility is disputed, but a 2010 study suggested that 10 to 30% of women with fibroids have fertility problems.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors found in the uterus, also called the womb. They may be as small as a grain of rice or as large as a melon and are found in any part of the uterus, although each fibroid type has a specific name: subserosal, intramural, and submucosal, depending on their location. While fibroids don’t interfere with ovulation, fibroids may make impede the uterus’ ability to support conception and sustain a pregnancy.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids include heavy, painful periods, prolonged periods, painful sex, low back pain, frequent urination, and others. Uterine fibroids are diagnosable via a pelvic exam, which may be followed up with an ultrasound test to confirm the growths as fibroids instead of something else.
The Connection Between Fertility Concerns and Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids can impact a woman’s ability to conceive, but the reason why isn’t completely understood. Some of the common reasons doctors think fibroids may impede conception and cause pregnancy complications include:
- Your fallopian tubes can be blocked by fibroids, which can make it impossible for a fertilized egg to implant.
- It can affect how many sperm can enter through the cervix.
- It can change the shape of the uterus, which interferes with sperm or embryo movement.
- Fibroids can make the uterine lining thinner.
- Blood flow to the uterine cavity may be decreased, which makes it more difficult for an embryo to implant in the uterine wall.
- There is less room for the fetus to grow fully in the womb if the fibroids are very large.
- Babies may be in the breech position (feet first rather than head-first deliveries), necessitating a C-section delivery. One study found that women with fibroids are 6 times more likely to need a C-section delivery than women who do not have fibroids.
Treatment for Uterine Fibroids
For most women who experience no symptoms, the most common treatment is observation, or no treatment. Removal may be necessary if a woman has health issues, such as pain. However, the irony is that treating fibroids may, in fact, make fertility even worse.
If you have uterine fibroids, you may not experience infertility because of these growths. Instead, you may want to meet with a fertility specialist to evaluate whether you and your partner should seek an expert’s opinion on what is causing your infertility troubles. A thorough fertility evaluation can determine the next steps in the journey with your partner to become parents.