Posted: Aug 01, 2013 9:00 AM
 
Your doctor says you have uterine fibroids but doesn’t seem concerned. What are they, and should you be worried or not? We rounded up the latest info on this often-silent condition that many women share.

Uterine fibroids — also called fibromyomas, leiomyomas or myomas — are a form of benign tumor that affects as many as three out of four women during their lifetime. If you have been diagnosed with fibroids, you probably have questions.

What is a fibroid, anyway?

According to the National Institutes of Health, half of all women have fibroids by age 50.

A fibroid is a muscular tumor that most often grows in the uterine wall, but may also grow in the uterine cavity or on the outside of the uterus. They are almost always benign (not cancerous). Fibroids can range in size from too small to be seen to larger than a grapefruit. While some fibroids continue to grow slowly over time, others may stay the same size or possibly shrink on their own. You may have a single fibroid or multiple fibroids at the same time. In some cases, these benign tumors grow large enough to distort your abdomen, even making you look pregnant. According to the National Institutes of Health, half of all women have fibroids by age 50.

Symptoms

While many women experience no symptoms with fibroids, some women experience uncomfortable symptoms such as:

  • Painful or heavy periods
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Bloating, or lower abdominal enlargement
  • Feeling of fullness in lower abdominal area
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your gynecologist.

Diagnosis

Your gynecologist may be able to feel fibroids during a pelvic exam, or might use ultrasound or MRI to verify that you have them. Other tests may include a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) or sonohysterogram. During an HSG, your uterus is injected with dye and then an x-ray is taken. Water is injected into your uterus for a sonohysterogram, and images are taken with ultrasound. Both of these procedures give your doctor a clearer picture of both the size and location of your fibroids.

Now what?

So your doctor has confirmed that you have uterine fibroids — now what? If you have no symptoms, you might not need to treat them at all. Your gynecologist can monitor their size during your regular exams. If the fibroids are causing uncomfortable symptoms, there are several treatment options to shrink or remove them, depending on your age, whether you want children in the future and your general health.

If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms of fibroids, your doctor may treat them with birth control pills or an IUD to control heavy bleeding and pain, iron supplements to prevent or treat anemia, anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) for pain or hormonal therapy injections to help shrink the fibroids.

Does your doctor think you need surgery or a procedure to get rid of your fibroids? The National Institutes of Health lists these four most common methods of removing uterine fibroids:

  • Hysteroscopic resection of fibroids: If your fibroids are growing inside the uterine cavity, your doctor may recommend this outpatient procedure to remove them.
  • Uterine artery embolization: Stopping the blood supply to the fibroid causes it to shrink and die. If you are considering a pregnancy in the future, discuss this procedure with your doctor.
  • Myomectomy: This surgery removes the fibroids, although you may develop more fibroids later. Women who want to have children often choose this treatment, because your fertility is usually preserved.
  • Hysterectomy: While this surgery is considered invasive, it may be an option if medicines don’t work and other procedures are not an option.

If you suspect that you may have uterine fibroids, consult with your gynecologist or family physician as soon as possible.

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