It may be the your 'fat' tummy isn't fat at all and abdominal fibroids are the cause. There are a number of medical reasons as to why a person may appear to have belly flab rather than a flat tummy, and fibroids are one of them.
Fibroids are benign (i.e., not cancerous) tumors that can range in size from smaller than a pin-head to a mass as large as a 5-month old pregnancy. Abdominal fibroids are the most common tumors of the female genital tract and if they grow large they can fill up the the abdomen, thus giving the appearance of a fat or very large stomach.
Other names for fibroids are leiomyoma, leiomyomata, or myoma and chances are if you have one, you have more of them in your uterus. They are made up of thick fibrous tissue and are 'fed' by your body's blood vessels.
Most people with abdomnal fibroids don't get any symptoms. Approximately 20 percent of fibroids require treatment. However, depending on their size, where they are located and how many there are, fibroids can potentially cause issues such as:
- Pain and pressure in the pelvic region
- Internal bleeding
- Swelling in the abdominal area
- Pressure on the bladder resulting in frequent urination
- Pressure on the bowel resulting in constipation and bloating
Scientists do not know why abdominal fibroids occur. According to statistics, they affect 40% of women over 35 years old in the US.
There is a possible link between uterine fibroids and estrogen production. During pregnancy, estrogen levels are higher and fibroids can apparently grow very large and may shrink back down afterwards. They usually improve once a woman is in menopause, when estrogen levels naturally decrease.
Usually an ultrasound will tell if fibroids are present. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is also used to determine if fibroids can be treated with embolization (see below) and it can give other information about any underlying disease.
There are many treatments available if you have fibroids.
Uterine artery embolization (UAE), or uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is an 'endovascular' procedure which is non-surgical and minimally invasive. A patient is sedated for the procedure but general anesthesia is not required. Recovery time is usually an overnight stay in the hospital. Bleeding usually stops immediately and light activities can be returned to in around a week. Then, within 6 months the fibroids shrink to about 50%.
Fibroids can also be treated with surgery, including hysterectomy, which removes the entire uterus, or myomectomy, which removes the fibroids but leaves the uterus. Both are major surgeries that involve a hospital stay of a number of days, then a 6-week recovery period. Myomectomy can preserve fertility, but carries the additional risk of recurrence, especially since there are usually multiple fibroids involved.
Consult your family doctor if you are experiencing the above symptoms and/or you think you might have fibroids.