Key Points about Uterine Fibroids
- Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths in the uterus that affect women of childbearing age.
- Uterine fibroids sometimes don’t cause any symptoms and may be diagnosed during a routine pelvic area.
- Treatment for uterine fibroids may involve watchful waiting, medication or surgery to remove the fibroids.
OverviewUterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) growths that occur in the uterus, usually during the childbearing years. Uterine fibroids are also known as leiomyomas or myomas. Uterine fibroids range in size from so tiny they can’t be seen by the human eye, to large masses that can distort the shape of the uterus. Uterine fibroids very rarely develop into cancer.
Uterine fibroids causes
While experts don’t know the exact cause of uterine fibroids, they believe these factors play a role:
- Excessive growth of extracellular matrix, or ECM (material that enables cells to stick together)
- Genetic changes
- Hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone
- Other growth factors in the body
Uterine fibroids risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing uterine fibroids:
- Being African-American
- Being a woman of reproductive age
- Having a family history of uterine fibroids
- Having started your period at an early age
- Having a vitamin D deficiency
- Eating a diet rich in red meat and low in green vegetables, fruit and dairy
- Drinking alcohol, especially beer
Uterine fibroids symptoms
Signs and symptoms of uterine fibroids can include:
- Backache or leg pain
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Heavy periods
- Periods that last longer than a week
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Trouble completely emptying the bladder
Uterine fibroids diagnosis
Your specialist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose uterine fibroids:
- Pelvic exam. Your specialist will use their hands to feel inside and outside of your pelvis for abnormalities.
- Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to obtain a detailed image of your uterus so that your specialist can diagnose fibroids.
- Blood tests. Your specialist may order blood tests to rule out other possible causes of heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Other imaging tests. Your specialist may order other imaging tests – such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), hysterosonography, hysterosalpingography or hysteroscopy – to get a closer look at the inside of your uterus and surrounding structures.
Uterine fibroids treatment
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatments for uterine fibroids:
- Watchful waiting. If you aren’t experiencing any troublesome symptoms, your specialist may recommend watchful waiting and close monitoring of your uterine fibroids before proceeding with any other treatment.
- Medications. Your specialist may prescribe one or more medications that can help normalize your menstrual cycle and treat symptoms like heavy bleeding or pelvic pressure. Medications can’t completely eliminate fibroids, but they can shrink them.
- Surgery. If more conservative methods are not effective at controlling your fibroid symptoms, your specialist may recommend surgery to remove the fibroids. There are newer, non-invasive techniques available that can preserve your uterus so you can get pregnant in the future if desired.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a women’s health provider for more specialized treatment.