Fibroids: causes and symptoms?

Written by: Mr Christian Barnick
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

Fibroids are benign growths on the smooth muscle of the womb. Therefore, in reality, their name is a bit misleading because instead of looking fibrous, they are actually made of smooth muscle. The medical term for fibroids is a leiomyoma. Mr Christian Barnick, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist, discusses the causes and symptoms of fibroids.

What causes fibroids?

Whilst the cause of fibroids is not known for certain, we think that it is related to the trait that inhibits cell division is somehow deleted in some cells in the womb. Therefore, they start to divide and divide until a lump of muscular tissue appears in the womb: a fibroid.

How common are fibroids?

Fibroids are very common and they typically affect African-Caribbean women more because they seem to have a genetic preponderance for them. As a result, they can often get lots of large fibroids, which can be very difficult to treat. Caucasian and Asian women will more commonly only get one or two fibroids which are easier to treat and do not cause quite so many problems for them. Fibroids affect up to about 30 per cent of women of childbearing years. As fibroids are oestrogen sensitive, they tend to shrink away after the menopause.

What are the symptoms of fibroids?

Fibroids can cause a number of different symptoms, which sometimes depend a bit on their position in the womb. You could have fibroids that are growing on the outside of the womb, which are not going to affect your periods very much, but they might give rise to pressure symptoms. If they are flopping forwards onto the bladder, urine frequency might be a problem, whereas, if they are pushing on the bowel, then constipation might be an issue. If they are pushing on the nerves on the back of the spine on the front of the sacrum, then you might get pain going down your legs.

If the fibroids are growing inside the womb itself, then they increase the vascularity to the womb much more. As a result, periods can be much heavier. Hence, typically, a woman with fibroids will have heavy, prolonged periods with clots. They do not normally cause bleeding between periods, and this symptom is usually caused by other conditions.

If you have fibroids, you may also notice that your abdominal girth is increasing. Fibroids can get very large and individual fibroids can grow up to about 12 centimetres in diameter. If you have three or four of these, you can rapidly start to look pregnant and have an abdomen that is quite distended. Therefore, fibroid symptoms are usually a combination of pain, heavy periods, and abdominal distension.


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with an expert to receive a diagnosis.

By Mr Christian Barnick
Obstetrics & gynaecology

Mr Christian Barnick is both an obstetrician and gynaecologist, with over 30 years of experience working in leading London teaching hospitals. He works privately and in the NHS, and sees women with a wide range of gynaecological issues and problems. Where appropriate he performs advanced specialist keyhole surgery.

Mr Barnick has established and runs an accredited tertiary referral centre for advanced endometriosis. He also provides a comprehensive package of antenatal care and delivery at the Portland Hospital.

With over 30 years experience of both normal and complex obstetrics, Mr Barnick is able to support natural birth and also to manage all obstetric emergencies. Provision of up to date, unbiased, evidence-based information and shared decision making is key to his approach.

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