What are Uterine Fibroids?
Fibroids are tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus. It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids in their lifetime — however, not everyone will develop symptoms or require treatment.
The most important characteristic of fibroids is that they’re almost always benign, or noncancerous. That said, some fibroids begin as cancer — but benign fibroids can’t become cancer.
Cancerous fibroids are very rare. Because of this fact, it’s reasonable for women without symptoms to opt for observation rather than treatment.
Studies show that fibroids grow at different rates, even when a woman has more than one. They can range from the size of a pea to (occasionally) the size of a watermelon. Even if fibroids grow that large, we offer timely and effective treatment to provide relief.
Who is at risk for uterine fibroids?
There are factors that can increase a woman's risk of developing fibroids.
- Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
- Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman's mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average.
- Ethnic origin. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
- Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
- Eating habits. Eating a lot of red meat (e.g., beef) and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.
What are symptoms of fibroids?
Most fibroids do not cause any symptoms, but some women with fibroids can have:
- Heavy bleeding (which can be heavy enough to cause anemia) or painful periods
- Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area (lower stomach area)
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
- Complications during pregnancy and labor, including a six-time greater risk of cesarean section
- Reproductive problems, such as infertility, which is very rare
How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?
Fibroids are most often found during a physical exam. Your health care provider may feel a firm, irregular (often painless) lump during an abdominal or pelvic exam.
Scans can confirm a diagnosis. These tests are the two main options:
Ultrasound: Ultrasound is the most commonly used scan for fibroids. It uses sound waves to diagnose fibroids and involves frequencies (pitch) much higher than what you can hear. A doctor or technician places an ultrasound probe on the abdomen or inside the vagina to help scan the uterus and ovaries. It is quick, simple and generally accurate. However, it relies on the experience and skill of the doctor or technician to produce good results. Other tests such as MRI may be better for other conditions, such as adenomyosis.
MRI: This imaging test uses magnets and radio waves to produce images. It allows your provider to gain a road map of the size, number and location of the fibroids. We can also distinguish between fibroids and adenomyosis, which sometimes gets misdiagnosed. We use MRI to confirm a diagnosis and help determine which treatments are best for you. MRI may also provide a better option for related conditions such as adenomyosis.