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How fibroids can lead to gut issues: Study finds sitting for 6 hours a day doubles risk

Shot of a young woman experiencing stomach pain fibroids while lying on a sofa at home
Sitting for a prolonged period of time can double the risk of fibroids, study finds. (Getty Images)

We all know that sitting for prolonged periods of time is bad for us, but a new study has found that sitting for just six hours a day can double a woman’s risk of fibroids.

According to the NHS, fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in and around the uterus (womb) and can lead to several gut issues such as bloating and constipation. Severe cases of fibroids can also lead to infertility in some women.

The researchers also found that sitting for long periods of time can lead to endometrial, ovarian and breast tumours as these rely on oestrogen.

To get these findings, researchers from Kunming Medical University in China collected background information on 6,623 women aged 30 to 55.

In total, 562 (or 8.5%) of the women had uterine fibroids, and the prevalence of the fibroids increased with age.

Being seated during leisure activities, such as playing board games, knitting, reading, watching TV or screen time, was the main culprit. The study found that those seated or lying down for six hours of leisure time per day had a higher risk of developing fibroids than those who were seated for just two hours of leisure.

Endometriosis disease anatomy concept of female infertility condition as uterus avaries and fallopian tubes with tissue growth with 3D illustration elements.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that grow in or around a woman's uterus. (Getty Images)

The research, published in the journal BMJ Open, also found that perimenopausal women had a five times greater risk than those who had not yet reached menopause.

"Uterine fibroids are the most common benign tumours in women of childbearing age, varying in prevalence from 4.5% to 69%," study author Dr Qiong Meng said.

"These growths may not produce any symptoms, but they may also be associated with abnormal bleeding, pelvic and abdominal pain, and infertility, among other things. This cross-sectional study, based on the natural population, showed that sedentary leisure time has a linear positive correlation with uterine fibroids, indicating that it may be an independent risk factor."

What are fibroids?

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that form in and around the uterus and can range from the size of a pea to the size of a melon.

Also known as uterine myomas or leiomyoma, fibroids are common in women, with around 1 in 3 women expected to develop them in her lifetime, and they become more common as you get older.

The exact cause of fibroids is unknown, but they are linked to the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which are produced by the ovaries. The NHS says that fibroids will continue to grow as long as the ovaries produce these hormones, but that they are likely to shrink after menopause.

Watch: Keys to Improving Your Gut Health

Signs and symptoms of fibroids

Fibroids are difficult to diagnose as they do not usually have any symptoms. The only way to diagnose fibroids is by having an ultrasound scan.

However, the NHS recommends booking in an appointment with your GP if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Heavy or painful periods

  • Abdominal pain

  • Lower back pain

  • Constipation

  • Frequent need to urinate

  • Pain or discomfort during sex

How fibroids can affect gut health

Unless fibroids are causing painful symptoms or infertility, or affecting your day to day life, they do not need to be treated. But they can still have an affect on your gut health.

This is because, depending on the size of the fibroids and where they are on your uterus, it can put pressure on your bowels or intestines, which can in turn cause constipation or bloating.

asian doctor using ultrasound scanner performing examination of  belly for her patient - feminine health medical concept
Fibroids can only officially be diagnosed with an ultrasound. (Getty Images)

A separate study from 2022 found that the diversity of gut bacteria in patients with uterine fibroids was significantly lower than in patients without fibroids.

It added that this imbalance in gut microbiota composition has been associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colon cancer, along with metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

If you are suffering from digestive issues coupled with any other fibroids symptoms mentioned above, it’s worth making an appointment with your GP.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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