Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous (benign) tumors that grow from the uterine muscular tissue. They can develop along the inside or outside layers of the uterine wall.
Fibroids develop in many different sizes and shapes. Some grow quickly, while others grow gradually over several years. It’s possible to have multiple fibroids growing simultaneously.
They’re most common in women in their 30s, and African-American women.
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
The symptoms of uterine fibroids are varied. You may have one symptom, multiple symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Dull, aching pain in the pelvis or lower back
- Abdominal cramping
- Pain during sex
- An increase in the frequency or duration of periods
- Heavier bleeding during periods
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Constipation, difficult bowel movements, or pain in the rectum
- Frequent urination or difficulty urinating
Not all uterine fibroids require treatment, but if your symptoms are bothering you or causing complications, you might want to talk to your doctor about your options.
Complications with Uterine Fibroids
While fibroids are rarely cancerous, they can cause pain and complications to your reproductive system.
Very large fibroids can press on your abdomen and cause pain and swelling. A pelvic exam may be more uncomfortable for you, or more difficult to perform.
Pain, fever, and nausea
When a fibroid outside of the uterus twists on itself, the resulting pain can be severe, and can make you feel sick.
Some fibroids might cause problems for your fertility and your ability to carry a baby. If fibroids are causing fertility problems, you might want to have them removed before trying to get pregnant again.
In rare cases, however, they can increase the risk of certain complications, including miscarriage, breech birth, preterm birth, or C-section delivery.
Treatments for Uterine Fibroids
If your OB-GYN recommends treatment for your fibroids, you will have several options.
Many hormone therapies exist for treating the symptoms of uterine fibroids.
Birth control pills and IUDs have been shown to control heavy periods and ease cramping. Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) agonists can stop the menstrual cycle and prevent the growth of fibroids temporarily until they can be surgically removed.
This is a surgery to remove fibroids from the uterine walls. This surgery leaves the uterus intact, allowing you to retain the ability to become pregnant after surgery. However, new fibroids may develop over time, and may need to be surgically removed again.
This outpatient procedure can destroy fibroids that extend into the uterine cavity with a resectoscope, which directs a laser or electrical pulse at the growth. It can’t treat fibroids that are outside the uterus, nor ones that are embedded into the uterine wall.
This is a procedure that destroys and removes the endometrial lining of the uterus. After the procedure, your periods may be light or nonexistent. This is only recommended for women who do not wish to get pregnant.
Uterine artery embolization
In this procedure, small particles are injected into the uterine blood vessels, which deprives the fibroids of blood and causes them to shrink.
Complete surgical removal of the uterus, with or without the ovaries, is usually performed as a last resort or if the fibroids are very large. After a hysterectomy, a woman is no longer able to become pregnant.