Uterine fibroids are small, benign tumors that grow in the uterus. They are made of the same type of cells found in the walls and connective tissues of the uterus.
In some cases, they embed in the walls of the uterus, but some fibroids will project from the outer surface of the uterus into the abdominal cavity. Others can cluster inside the uterus and project into the interior space of the uterus.
The cause of uterine fibroids is not known, but some women are at higher risk of developing them than others. Black women receive uterine fibroid diagnoses 2 to 3 times as often as other women, and uterine fibroids only rarely appear in young women who have not started menstruating.
Uterine fibroids will stop growing and dissolve over time after menopause.
What Does My Uterine Fibroid Diagnosis Mean?
Uterine fibroid diagnoses are incredibly common, and about 70 to 80 percent of women will receive a uterine fibroid diagnosis before age 50. If your doctor recently diagnosed you as having uterine fibroids, don’t be alarmed: Uterine fibroids are not cancerous, and the worst symptoms they cause are manageable.
While this condition can cause some unpleasant symptoms, many women with uterine fibroids do not have any symptoms at all, and the condition is not medically threatening.
Possible Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Most uterine fibroids do not cause any noticeable symptoms. If a doctor discovers uterine fibroids that are asymptomatic during a routine gynecological exam, he or she will likely suggest a wait-and-see approach for monitoring the fibroids in the future. The doctor may wish to confirm the uterine fibroid diagnosis with imaging scans like an ultrasound or pelvic MRI.
Women who experience negative symptoms from uterine fibroids typically report painful or excessive bleeding during periods, or bleeding between periods. Uterine fibroids may also cause abdominal swelling or a feeling of fullness.
If fibroids compress the bladder, the woman may experience a frequent need to urinate or may have difficulty urinating. Uterine fibroids can also cause lower back pain and pain during sexual intercourse.
Excessive bleeding during periods is a common issue, and some women develop anemia from the blood loss and can suffer other medical complications as well. If these symptoms are severe enough, the woman’s doctor may recommend one of several possible treatment options.
What Are Uterine Fibroids: Treatment Options
A doctor will only treat a case of uterine fibroids if they are causing the patient significant discomfort. The type of symptoms the patient displays, and the severity of those symptoms, typically determines the best course of treatment.
Women who experience only mild pelvic pain may benefit from over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications like ibuprofen. If the pain is too severe for these drugs to handle, the woman’s doctor can prescribe a stronger medication.
While doctors have yet to pinpoint the causes of uterine fibroids, they do believe that uterine fibroids have an easier time developing in an estrogen-rich system. Some doctors may wish to treat uterine fibroids with hormonal medication to limit estrogen production, but it’s important that women understand the effects of hormonal medications.
While a birth control pill may contain hormones that reduce excessive bleeding and decrease a woman’s pain during menstruation, birth control pills that contain estrogen can cause uterine fibroids to grow. This treatment would effectively only manage the symptoms while making the cause of those symptoms worse.
Uterine Fibroids and Pregnancy
Some women may wonder if uterine fibroids interfere with pregnancy. Since estrogen encourages fibroid growth, a woman’s existing uterine fibroids may enlarge during the first trimester when estrogen levels are highest. However, the tumors will later shrink after birth.
Advanced cases of uterine fibroids that cause significant pain and discomfort may require surgery. The two types of surgery that can solve a uterine fibroid problem are:
If a woman undergoes a hysterectomy during her childbearing years, she will no longer be able to have children. Some women may not wish to have children, or any more children, and find this acceptable if it stops the unpleasant symptoms of the fibroids.
Women who wish to remove their uterine fibroids but still want to be able to bear children may opt for a myomectomy instead. A myomectomy procedure removes the uterine fibroid tumors while leaving the uterus intact.
Doctors perform myomectomies in three different ways:
- Laparotomy: The doctor enters the uterus through a small incision in the abdomen to remove the uterine fibroids.
- Laparoscopic myomectomy: The doctor uses a small, thin telescopic instrument through a small incision in the navel to reach the uterine fibroids.
- Hysteroscopic myomectomy: A procedure which involves inserting a hysteroscope through the cervix to extract the uterine fibroids through the vaginal opening.
Finally, if a woman does not wish to undergo surgery and wants to keep her fertility intact, she can opt for a fibroid embolization procedure. This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure during which an interventional radiologist shrinks the uterine fibroids by cutting off their blood supply. The patient will often be able to go home the same day as the procedure after a short recovery period.
Know Your Options
Uterine fibroids can be unpleasant and cause a host of problematic symptoms, so women should always refer to their gynecologists for their recommendations for treatment and handling symptoms. Arizona Gynecology Consultants works with a large network of trusted medical providers, so reach out to us if you have questions about managing your uterine fibroids.