Uterine fibroids develop when muscle fibers from the uterus grow and form a mass. They can be located on the inside, outside or in the wall of the uterus. They are almost always benign, and you may not even realize that you have them. In fact, more than 50 percent of all women have fibroids or will develop them in their lifetime.
Who gets fibroids?
Although you can develop fibroids at any time, they're most likely when you're in your 40s to mid-50s. This is typically when you're past childbearing but may be still getting your period. There do not seem to be any risk factors or family history connections.
What causes fibroids?
The cause of fibroids is not fully understood. Research has shown that estrogen and progesterone seem to make them grow. Thus, fibroids seem most active when hormone levels are higher during your childbearing years. Fibroids tend to shrink after menopause and rarely develop after you're no longer having your period.
What are the symptoms of fibroids?
You may not experience any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they most likely will be affected by the location, size and number of your fibroids. You may experience:
- Heavy, painful or prolonged menstrual periods.
- Low back pain.
- Pelvic pain.
- Frequent urination.
- Painful intercourse.
How are fibroids diagnosed?
Your gynecologist may identify a fibroid during a pelvic exam. A vaginal ultrasound would show the location and size of the fibroid(s). Another benign condition called adenomyosis also presents with the same symptoms, so it's important to get the correct diagnosis to guide the right treatment.
How are fibroids treated?
If you aren't experiencing symptoms or if your symptoms are mild, you may choose to have no treatment.
For pain, you might try over-the-counter pain medications. For heavy periods, your gynecologist may prescribe birth control pills or progesterone to make your periods lighter.
After discussing your symptoms with your gynecologist, you may determine that a procedure might be the best course of action. Depending on various factors, this might include uterine fibroid embolization, a myomectomy or a hysterectomy.