Uterine fibroids are benign, muscular tumors that grow in the uterus. They are also called leiomyomas or myomas. Uterine fibroids are very common, affecting up to 70% of women at some point in their lives. They can range in size from small pea-sized nodules to large tumors that can distort the shape of the uterus. While many women with uterine fibroids experience no symptoms, others can have significant discomfort, pain, and heavy bleeding.
The exact cause of uterine fibroids is not known, but they seem to be influenced by hormones, particularly estrogen, and progesterone. These tumors are more common in women in their 30s and 40s, and they tend to shrink after menopause. Black women are more likely to develop fibroids than women of other ethnic backgrounds. Obesity is associated with fibroids. Women who have a family history of uterine fibroids are also at a higher risk of developing them.
Uterine fibroids can be located inside the uterus (submucosal), outside the uterus (subserosal), or within the uterine wall (intramural). They can vary in size and number. Some women may have only one fibroid, while others may have several. In rare cases, fibroids can grow very large and take up most of the space in the pelvis.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids can include heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, pain during sex, frequent urination, and constipation. Some women may also experience lower back pain, pelvic pain, or pressure. In rare cases, fibroids can cause infertility or miscarriage.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis of uterine fibroids usually involves a pelvic exam and imaging tests, such as ultrasound or MRI. Treatment options depend on the size and location of the fibroids, as well as the severity of the symptoms. Women who have small fibroids and no symptoms may not need treatment. However, if the fibroids are causing discomfort or heavy bleeding, treatment options may include medication, surgery, or other procedures.
Medications that can help alleviate the symptoms of uterine fibroids include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief and hormonal therapy to regulate the menstrual cycle. Hormonal therapy can include birth control pills, progesterone injections, birth control patches, birth control vaginal rings or implants, or a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD). However, hormonal therapy is not effective for all women, and it can have side effects.
Surgery may be recommended for women who have larger fibroids or more severe symptoms. There are several surgical options for treating uterine fibroids, including a myomectomy to remove the fibroids while leaving the uterus intact or a hysterectomy to remove the entire uterus. A myomectomy is generally preferred for women who want to preserve their fertility, while a hysterectomy is more appropriate for women who no longer wish to have children.
In addition to surgery, there are several other procedures that can be used to treat uterine fibroids. These procedures include uterine artery embolization, which involves blocking the blood flow to the fibroids, and MRI-guided focused ultrasound, which uses high-energy sound waves to destroy the fibroids. Both of these procedures are minimally invasive and do not require a surgical incision.
Reduce your risk
While some of the factors that increase the risk of developing uterine fibroids are not under the individual’s control, there are some risk factors that can be controlled. For example, people who eat lots of red meat are more likely to develop fibroids, while eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can reduce the chances.
Exercise also has been shown to help prevent the development of uterine fibroids. Regular exercises, such as walking and yoga, can decrease the symptoms as well.
If you are concerned about uterine fibroids, talk with your gynecologist.