10 Things You Need to Know About Uterine Fibroids

Fibroids are also known as fibroid tumors, leiomyomas, or myomas. They are a mass of muscle or tissue that can form on the inside or the outside of the uterus. They can be as small as a pea or grow to be as big as a grapefruit. They occur in 50-80 percent of women. Have you been told that you have a fibroid tumor? If you are concerned, here's what you need to know.

10 There Aren't Always Symptoms

Many women don't even know they have uterine fibroids because there aren't always accompanying symptoms. Some symptoms that can occur are pelvic pain and pressure, heavy vaginal bleeding, frequent urination, and constipation. Your doctor may discover fibroids during a routine pelvic exam or during a prenatal ultrasound. If you don't have any uncomfortable symptoms, you might not even need treatment.

9 What Causes Fibroids?

While doctors don't know the exact cause of fibroids, they believe that hormones are likely the culprit. Estrogen and progesterone, two hormones involved in preparing the body for menstruation and pregnancy, promote the growth of fibroids. This is why fibroids tend to grow rapidly during pregnancy and shrink during the use of anti-hormonal medicines or when a woman goes through menopause.

8 Risk Factors

Doctors think fibroids are caused by genetics. Chances are, if your mother had fibroids, you may have them, too. Women tend to get fibroids as they age, and they are most common in women in their 30s-40s. A woman's diet seems to have an effect on fibroids; it is believed that women who eat lots of red meat have a higher risk of developing fibroids.

In addition, women who are overweight or obese are also at a greater risk for fibroids. For some reason, African American women are more likely to have fibroids than women of other racial groups. They are also more likely to develop fibroids at a younger age, as well as have larger fibroids or more of them.

7 Where Can Fibroids Grow?

The most common types of fibroids are intramural fibroids. They form within the lining of the uterus and grow inward, making the uterus feel larger than normal during an exam. Intramural fibroids can cause pelvic pain, back pain, and heavier or prolonged menstrual bleeding.

Submucosal fibroids grow just under the lining of the uterus. Although these are the least common type of fibroid, they can cause heavy, prolonged periods.

Subserosal fibroids develop just under the outermost layer of the uterus and expand outward, giving the uterus a bumpy appearance. They don't affect menstruation, but can cause pelvic pain, pressure, and back pain. Sometimes a subserosal fibroid can develop a stalk or stem (pedunculated fibroid) which can get twisted or torqued, causing pain.

6 Diagnosis

Usually a pelvic exam or a simple ultrasound is all that is needed to diagnose uterine fibroids. If, for some reason, the doctor is concerned that the mass is cancerous, he will recommend a biopsy of the tissue. More extensive testing, like a hysterosalpingogram, may be required if you are having trouble conceiving.

During a hysterosalpingogram, dye is injected into the uterus to give a clear outline of the uterus and Fallopian tubes on an X-ray. During a hysteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted into the uterus and the interior of the uterus is displayed on a video screen. A hysteroscopy can allow your doctor to examine fibroids that are growing out into the uterus.

5 Complications for Conception

Although rare, some doctors believe that fibroids may interfere with conception by sticking out into the uterus and preventing an embryo from implanting into the uterine wall. Fibroids may also block the Fallopian tubes and prevent sperm from traveling through the cervix and into the Fallopian tubes.

If you know that you have fibroids prior to getting pregnant, ask your doctor if there is a possibility the size or location could cause problems with getting pregnant or carrying or delivering a baby.

4 Fibroids during Pregnancy

Because a lot of fibroids tend to grow quickly when a woman is pregnant, they may be discovered or diagnosed for the first time during a prenatal exam. Thankfully, it's not often that fibroids cause complications during pregnancy. While they may cause problems for mom, like nausea, fever, and an elevated white blood cell count, it's rare that fibroids cause issues for the baby.

3 Possible Pregnancy Problems

If a fibroid is located near the placenta, there is a slight possibility that it could adversely affect the blood supply to the baby, causing premature birth or low birth weight. Depending on the size or location of the fibroid, the baby may wind up in a breech or transverse position, requiring a C-section.

Another reason a C-section may become necessary is if the fibroid blocks the cervix. Again, all of these issues are highly unlikely, but talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

2 Treatment

Your doctor may recommend medication to regulate your menstrual cycle, which can help reduce symptoms such as heavy periods and pelvic pressure. Some medications may improve unpleasant symptoms but do not shrink or get rid of fibroids. Other medications may block the production of estrogen and progesterone, putting you in a temporary postmenopausal state and causing the fibroids to shrink.

Noninvasive options for fibroid removal include using sound waves to destroy small pieces of the fibroid tissue. Other minimally invasive options for fibroid removal include laparoscopic procedures which freeze or destroy the fibroids with an electrical current or laser.

If you have large or numerous fibroids, traditional surgery like an abdominal myomectomy may be required to remove them. Some women may also opt to have a hysterectomy. The complete removal of the uterus will prevent fibroids from growing or returning.

1 Fibroids are Noncancerous

Although they are called fibroid tumors, they are noncancerous (benign) growths. They don't cause uterine cancer and having them does not increase your chances of developing uterine cancer.


More in Did You Know...