Uterine fibroids at a glance
- Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) tumors that develop in the uterus.
- Fibroids are a relatively common occurrence – up to 50 percent of women have fibroids by age 50.
- If fibroids bulge into the uterine cavity or are located inside the uterus, they can impair fertility or cause miscarriages.
- Some women may only need periodic pelvic exams or ultrasounds to monitor the fibroid’s growth.
- If the fibroid is hampering fertility or causing severe symptoms, surgery may be necessary.
Uterine fibroid symptoms
It is possible for uterine fibroids not to cause any noticeable symptoms. For some women, symptoms may include:
- Pelvic cramping or pain during periods
- Longer than normal menstrual periods
- Very heavy menstrual bleeding, sometimes with the presence of blood clots
- Bleeding between periods
- Sensation of fullness or pressure in lower abdomen
- Pain in the pelvis, abdomen, or lower back
- Frequent urination
- Pain during intercourse
Causes of uterine fibroids
The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown, but researchers believe there may be genetic and hormonal factors that contribute to their development.
Certain women are at an increased risk of developing uterine fibroids, particularly beginning at age 30 and lasting through menopause. Women with a family history of fibroids or who are overweight are more likely to develop uterine fibroids, as are African-American women.
Uterine fibroid treatment options
Some uterine fibroids may not require treatment. Some women may only need occasional pelvic exams or ultrasounds to monitor the fibroid’s growth. Other treatment options depend on a woman’s age, overall health, and on the severity of her symptoms and the type of fibroids present.
Treatment options may be different for women who are pregnant or who would like to become pregnant in the future.
Treatment options for fibroid symptoms include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for cramps or pain, such as ibuprofen or naprosyn
- Iron supplements, which prevent or treat anemia due to heavy periods
- Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for heavy periods
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) to reduce heavy bleeding and pain by releasing the progestin hormone
- Short-term hormonal therapy injections to help shrink the fibroids
Surgery for uterine fibroids
In patients with more severe symptoms or larger fibroids, a physician may recommend surgery. Four main surgical procedures for uterine fibroids are:
- Hysteroscopic resection of fibroids: an outpatient procedure that removes fibroid tumors growing inside of the uterine cavity.
- Uterine artery embolization: a procedure that causes the fibroid to die and shrink by cutting off the blood supply. This approach is not recommended for women who may want to become pregnant in the future.
- Myomectomy: removes the fibroid, often in an attempt to restore or preserve fertility. However, more fibroids can develop after the procedure. Myomectomy may preserve or restore fertility, but all options should be discussed with a fertility specialist.
- Hysterectomy: a surgery to remove the uterus. This is used when medicines do not work and other procedures are not a viable option.