Uterine Fibroids Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

As many as 80% of women will develop one or more uterine fibroid tumors by the age of 50. Here’s what you need to know about these non-cancerous growths.

WHAT ARE UTERINE FIBROIDS?

Fibroid tumors (also called “myomas” or “uterine fibroids”) are non-cancerous growths in or around the uterus. Though some fibroids can be cancerous, this is very rare. Usually fibroids present an annoyance, not a threat to your life.

Fibroid tumors can vary in size from small (the size of a pumpkin seed) to large (the size of an apple). Fibroids can grow inside the uterus (called “submucosal”), in the wall of the uterus (“intramural”) or on the outside of the uterus (“subserosal”).

CAUSES OF UTERINE FIBROIDS

Researchers don’t yet know exactly what causes some women to get fibroid tumors. It’s known that female hormones, like estrogen, can play a role in shrinking the tumors. This knowledge has prompted researchers to investigate whether estrogen or other hormones can actually cause fibroids to develop. They don’t know for sure yet.

Researchers also believe fibroids tend to run in families, so they are investigating a genetic component to fibroid development. If your mother or sister had fibroid tumors, you may be at greater risk of getting them, too.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING UTERINE FIBROIDS

While researchers don’t know exactly what causes fibroids, they do know certain women are at increased risk of developing them. You may be more likely to get fibroids if:

  • You have a family history of fibroids
  • You’re over 30 years of age and have not gone through menopause
  • You’re African American
  • You’re overweight
  • You eat a lot of red meat

SYMPTOMS OF FIBROID TUMORS

Many women experience no symptoms from their fibroids. However, women with large or numerous fibroids may notice these symptoms:

  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Overly painful menstrual periods
  • Feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Painful sex
  • Lower back pain

UTERINE FIBROIDS DIAGNOSIS

If you suspect you may have uterine fibroids, you should see your health care provider for an examination. Your provider may order certain tests to determine whether or not you have fibroids. These tests may include an ultrasound exam, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan or another diagnostic test.

Sometimes, a doctor needs to perform an investigative surgery to determine if you have fibroids. Your doctor may perform a laparoscopy, in which a small camera is inserted through your belly button to look inside your abdomen, or a hysteroscopy, which involves inserting a camera through the vagina and cervix to look inside the uterus. A hysteroscopy requires no incision. Both of these tests are performed on an outpatient basis (no hospital stay).

TREATMENT FOR UTERINE FIBROIDS

There are many treatment options for fibroid tumors, depending on how severe your symptoms are. In general, many health care providers try non-invasive treatments before moving on to surgical procedures. Here are some of the treatments currently used for fibroids:

  • Medications, including low-dose birth control pills, to shrink fibroids
  • Myomectomy, a surgery that removes fibroids while leaving healthy uterine tissue intact
  • Endometrial ablation, which removes the lining of the uterus
  • Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), which blocks the arteries that supply blood to the tumors
  • Hysterectomy, a surgery that removes the entire uterus

FIBROIDS: ANNOYING, BUT NOT LIFE-THREATENING

You can’t prevent the development of fibroid tumors. They can occur in any woman. But the many treatment options now available can help you to live comfortably with fibroids.