Pregnancy can be a tight squeeze. By the end, not only are your clothes not fitting, but also your organs seem to have a limited place to hang out. It can be difficult to breathe, sit, stand, and walk. You name it, it’s hard to do it. And if you are carrying more than one (#twins, #triplets), it can be a doubly or triply painful situation. The pelvis and abdomen of a pregnant woman is like Manhattan real estate—it’s limited, to say the least. So, when other “things” have taken up home like ovarian cysts and fibroids, it can be an unpleasant situation. However, before you rush to “sell” them off, listen to what we have to say.
The most commonly encountered uninvited houseguests in pregnant women are ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. They usually have taken up residence and despite the rent hikes are refusing to move. Sometimes, they can stay put, and sometimes they need to be evicted. Here’s the lowdown on what’s legit and what needs to leave when it comes to cysts and fibroids.
When it comes to cysts, most of the time they can stay. In fact, it’s not uncommon to detect cysts during pregnancy. For many women, it is the first time we have seen a “picture” of their ovaries (say cheese!). The ultrasound is the mainstay for fetal evaluation—most women have at least two if not more ultrasounds performed in their pregnancy. During these exams, the ovaries are not camera shy; we usually get a good look at them. Most flash us a smile and never bother you or us again. We might look for them later in pregnancy to ensure that, if a cyst was present it is stable in size, but we infrequently act to take them out. And the numbers tell us why: adnexal masses (cysts in the ovaries/tubes) are seen in about 0.05 to 3.2% of all live births. Cancer is diagnosed in ONLY about 4 to 8% of these cysts. The bottom line is, they are very, very rare, and therefore we usually need to do nothing more than watch them from the outside.
Most cysts encountered in pregnancy are BENIGN and include dermoids (mature teratomas), corpus luteum, and para (adjacent to the ovary) simple cysts. Because nearly 50 to 70% of ovarian cysts during pregnancy will vanish like the bunny in a magic show, we usually leave them alone (only about 2% will cause you any acute problems requiring surgery). Those that won’t step out of the spotlight and need to come out tend to be larger (>5cm) and more complex (a.k.a. scary looking). They are usually removed in the second trimester, as this is the safest time to perform surgery in pregnancy.
Let’s call an Uber and travel from the ovaries to the uterus (a short trip even with price surging!). Here in the uterus, fibroids are often the most common foe faced during pregnancy. While they are sometimes dealt with before pregnancy even occurs, in most cases they are not. As they are very rarely the sole cause of infertility, most women don’t even know they are there until they are plugging along in pregnancy. Again, that trusty ultrasound that we use to capture your baby’s first pics will often identify fibroids that you never even knew existed. For those with infertility or recurrent miscarriages, fibroids will likely have presented themselves long before pregnancy. However, unless they’re inside the uterine cavity or significantly distorting the uterine cavity, they can usually stay put. Preventative surgery is not so popular.
In those women who have fibroid symptoms (bleeding, pain, pressure, etc.) it’s a different situation. You must take care of yourself and your uterus! If the symptoms are mild, we recommend holding off on surgery until you are ready to start trying. Surgery done as close to the time of desired pregnancy will cut down on the risk of recurrence. Although you will need about 3 months’ respite to let your uterus recover, you can pretty much get back on the field in no time (keep this in mind as you attempt to plan out your life).
If your symptoms are major or are causing your infertility, there is no better time than now to act. Don’t wait, as it won’t make your life or your symptoms any better. It will just make you more frustrated and fed up!
Newsflash…if you had a big fibroid removed before pregnancy and your surgeon said they “went through and through the muscle,” you are most likely going to need a C-Section. A uterus that has been sliced and diced, poked, and prodded may not be as strong as one that has never been disturbed. By performing an elective C-Section before labor starts, we can reduce the risk of a uterine perforation (uterus opening at the incision). This makes things way safer for everyone involved!
The reality is that most women with fibroids do just fine during pregnancy. Despite the influx of estrogen and progesterone, most don’t grow, and those that do usually only do so in the first trimester. On occasion, this brief rapid growth can cut off blood flow to the fibroid causing “degeneration” and significant pain. However, most women don’t even remember that their fibroids are there. In very few cases do fibroids cause serious problems; when they do, it’s the following that we are on the lookout for:
- Increased risk of miscarriage.
- Preterm delivery and labor.
- Abnormal fetal position.
- Fetal growth restriction.
- Placental abruption.
- Labor dysfunction (and the need for a C-Section).
- Heavy post-partum bleeding.
Even with these potentials on the horizon, removing fibroids in pregnancy is almost NEVER an option. A pregnant uterus has lots of blood. Lots of blood makes surgery very scary, and very scary surgery is nothing that anyone is interested in doing. That means you should wait until pregnancy is over to deal with your fibroids!
Unfortunately for the potential buyers out there (ourselves included!), the market is not about to crash. In fact, most say there is nothing more stable than real estate in the long run. Therefore, don’t move or remove “things” just because you have a plus one or maybe a plus two on the way. Their additional presence may be pesky, but unless there is a major problem pre-pregnancy (bleeding, pain, infertility), let them stay in their rent-controlled apartments. If they start to make too much noise, we have ways to deal with them!