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Medically reviewed by Dr. Kerac Falk, MD, FACOG.
An estimated 20 to 80% of women develop uterine fibroids by the age of 50, and for some, fibroids cause noticeable symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with them and also experience incontinence, you may wonder whether bladder problems are possible symptoms of fibroids. In this piece, we’ll explore the connection between fibroids and urinary incontinence, explore treatment options, and discuss how you can manage incontinence in your daily life.
Fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop in or on the uterus. The most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include heavy menstrual bleeding, severe abdominal pain during periods, and an enlarged uterus and/or abdomen. However, many women experience no uterine fibroid symptoms at all.
Research has yet to uncover what causes the growth of fibroids, but there is a belief that both genetics and changes in hormone levels likely play a role.
There are three types of fibroids classified by the location of the fibroids in relation to the uterus. They are:
Fibroids cause incontinence only in rare cases. Most often when a person has fibroids and incontinence, the growths aren’t the cause. The risk for urinary incontinence and fibroids increases with age, and obesity is a shared risk factor for both conditions. As a result, it’s possible for women to develop both fibroids and incontinence without one issue having caused the other.
Ultimately, whether fibroids are the cause of urinary urgency, leakage, and other incontinence symptoms depends on the location of the fibroids. Larger subserosal fibroids are most likely to press on the bladder and potentially cause overactivity and leakage. However, as noted above, in most cases, even subserosal fibroids aren’t a cause of incontinence.
In rare cases, where the growths are the direct cause of urinary symptoms, fibroid treatment is usually necessary to address incontinence. If you’re experiencing incontinence due to subserosal fibroids, your doctor will likely refer you to an expert, like a fibroid specialist, to explore your treatment options.
Fibroid diagnosis may involve:
Once your healthcare provider has diagnosed you with subserosal fibroids, they will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of the symptoms, the size of the fibroid, your medical history, and other factors. Fibroid treatment options include:
Generally, healthcare providers will recommend more conservative treatments first and turn to more invasive procedures only when a woman experiences severe symptoms that aren’t alleviated by other interventions.
Issues with fibroids and the incontinence symptoms that they can sometimes cause can be an ongoing problem. Conservative treatments can provide relief for months or even years, but fibroids and their accompanying symptoms may return in the future.
As a result, learning how to manage the symptoms of urinary incontinence from day to day is an important part of treatment. Keep reading to learn more about how to cope with incontinence due to fibroids.
To manage incontinence, follow these tips:
Women with fibroids may experience both urine leakage and heavy menstrual bleeding, leading to questions about how to manage both. The truth is that menstrual pads and incontinence pads have different designs, and they do not work well interchangeably.
To manage both incontinence and your menstrual flow, you can use tampons or a reusable menstrual cup with incontinence pads or underwear. Another option is to wear a booster pad or bladder control pad inside of absorbent menstrual underwear.
Making lifestyle changes can help address symptoms of incontinence and support a healthy urinary system. Some changes you can make include:
Incontinence can affect your mental health as much as it does your body. Consider making an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss your thoughts and feelings. You can also confide in friends and family and join online or in-person support groups for people living with fibroids and/or incontinence.
Seeing your healthcare provider regularly can help you catch fibroids early when they are easiest to treat and less likely to cause severe symptoms. If you’ve noticed any signs of uterine fibroids, such as pelvic pain, heavy periods, or incontinence, talk to your healthcare provider.
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Dr. Falk is a fellowship-trained urogynecology subspecialist, double board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. He has expertise in the treatment of female pelvic floor disorders, which encompass many common but infrequently-discussed conditions which significantly impact women’s quality of life. These include complex disorders such as urinary and bowel incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, childbirth injury, genital fistulas, recurrent urinary tract infection, and bladder pain.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office on Women's Health. (Feb. 19, 2021.). Uterine Fibroids. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids