Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that develop in or around the uterus for unknown reasons, although it's believed that certain factors play a role in their growth. Women with active fibroids often experience complications related to fertility, as well as period-related symptoms, including severe menstrual cramps, heavy menstrual bleeding, and spotting between periods. Fibroids, which are clinically known as muscle tumors, can occasionally degenerate on their own if their growth outpaces the blood supply feeding the fibroids. When this occurs, calcium deposits may develop on the fibroids.
Typically, calcified fibroids are "quieter" than active fibroids. They usually don't require medical attention, as these fibroids have reached the end stage of a degenerative process, meaning there can be no further disease progression. However, in order to be evaluated with a clean bill of health, meeting with a specialist or the fibroid doctors at VIVA EVE can give you the peace of mind you're seeking.
What Are Calcified Fibroids?
Calcified fibroids are inactive fibroids that have developed calcium deposits during the degenerative process. Degeneration occurs when a fibroid's aggressive growth rate outpaces the body's blood supply, and the blood vessels are unable to provide the fibroid with the oxygen and nutrients the fibroid needs to thrive.
Symptoms of Calcified Fibroids
Typically calcium deposits begin to form post-necrosis (cell death). As the cells begin to die, women may experience painful symptoms. The pain that is caused by degenerating fibroids is often due to the blood supply being reduced. Known symptoms include abdominal pain at the site of the fibroid and severe cramping.
If you are a woman with fibroids, it can be difficult to know what is the typical pain associated with fibroids, and what may be a sign of degeneration. To be diagnosed, make an appointment to be examined by a fibroid specialist. Once the fibroid becomes calcified, symptoms usually dissipate. In fact, fibroids that are treated with uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) often become calcified as the procedure blocks blood flow to the fibroids, leading to symptom relief.
Fibroid symptoms include:
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Heavy periods or periods lasting a week or longer
- Bleeding between periods
- Frequent urination
- Pain while having sex
- Leg pains or backache
If you suspect you have fibroids, schedule a fibroid screening to find out your specific prognosis. Your fibroid doctor may run some tests in addition to an examination to reach a diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
Age is the only risk factor for calcified fibroids. There is an increased likelihood of calcification in menopausal women, who often experience fibroid calcification naturally as their hormones regress. Following menopause, their fibroids often shrink and become asymptomatic.
There are a combination of causal factors that may contribute to the growth of fibroids in general, including:
- Female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, which stimulate the growth of fibroids
- Genetic changes that create different than normal uterine muscle cells
- Other growth factors
Although doctors don’t know for sure the exact cause, the best fibroid doctor is one who will discuss the risk factors that may have an influence on the growth and development of fibroids. Known risk factors include:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Early onset of menstruation
- Use of certain birth control methods
- Approaching menopause
- Certain dietary factors, such as eating a lot of red meat and a low amount of vegetables
- Heavy alcohol consumption
Calcified fibroids are diagnosed using the same series of diagnostic tests — non-invasive ultrasound and MRI — that fibroid specialists use to diagnose fibroids in general. For confirmation that the fibroids are inactive, the fibroid experts at VIVA EVE use an MRI with contrast. This involves injecting a contrast dye into a patient before having the scan.
“The purpose of this is to identify whether the fibroids are active or not by measuring the activity level of the blood supply to the fibroids. Fibroids that are active light up like Christmas trees,” says Dr. James Gohar, Fibroid Specialist at VIVA EVE. “They have a very bright, white appearance on imaging. Once fibroids begin the degenerative process, we see the white area slowly becoming black, and once it becomes all black, we know that it’s completely inactive.”
Treating Calcified Fibroids
Calcified fibroids, for the most part, don’t require treatment, says Dr. Gohar. While they can cause painful symptoms, this is a natural response from the body as it reacts to the drop in blood supply. This response may also be experienced by women after uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) treatment. This procedure blocks the blood supply to the fibroids in order to shrink them.
“The body is very sensitive to drops in blood supply. The body doesn’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. For example with any surgery, there’s pain after surgery. The pain after UFE isn’t due to incisions or cuts or healing, it’s often due to the blood supply being reduced. And so, the body generally has that sensitivity to changing blood supply.”
If you're feeling uncomfortable, see your doctor.
Complications from Calcified Fibroids
Uterine fibroids can lead to anemia from heavy blood loss. Ignoring fibroids isn’t recommended, because in some cases, these non-cancerous growths can lead to infertility or pregnancy loss.
Some women do experience severe pain from fibroids, and the best fibroid surgeons in NYC usually recommend surgery for these women. Fibroid surgery in NYC may involve removal of the fibroid, which is known as a myomectomy. In extreme cases, if the fibroid is very large and you don’t want to have any more children, your fibroid doctor may recommend a hysterectomy, which is removal of your uterus.