What are uterine fibroids?
Fibroids are benign tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus. It is estimated that 70-80% 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 are not cancer, and they do not have the potential to become cancer. Because of that, it is reasonable for women without symptoms to opt for observation rather than treatment. Studies show us that fibroids grow at different rates, even in the same woman, and can range from the size of a pea to the size of a watermelon.
What causes uterine fibroid tumors?
The cause of uterine fibroids is not known, although studies demonstrate there may be a genetic component. There is no food or external exposure that a woman can have that can cause her to develop fibroids.
Who is at risk for uterine fibroids?
As women age their likelihood for developing fibroids increases. Studies have demonstrated that women with a family history are more likely to develop fibroids. Fibroids are also more common in African American women. Obesity has also been linked to an increase risk of fibroids. There are no foods or diets that are known to increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Most women with fibroids will experience no symptoms at all. However, for many women large or numerous fibroids can cause the following symptoms:
- Heavy or prolonged periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Difficulty getting pregnant
How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?
Fibroids are most often found during the physical exam. Your healthcare provider may feel a firm, irregular pelvic mass during an abdominal or pelvic exam. Other tests may include:
- Transvaginal ultrasound. This is an ultrasound performed inside the vagina to better assess if you have fibroids. It can help establish the diagnosis as the first imaging test.
- MRI. This imaging test does not use radiation, and allows your provider to gain a road map as to the size, number, and location of each of your fibroids. It is often recommended before proceeding with some surgical options.
- Saline Sonohysteragram. This is a vaginal ultrasound performed in the office while putting fluid (saline) into the uterus. By expanding the uterine cavity with this fluid your provider may be able to see if you have fibroids growing within the uterine cavity.
- Hysteroscopy. This is a surgical procedure performed to gain direct visualization of the uterine cavity. It does not visualize or treat fibroids outside the cavity.
How are uterine fibroids treated?
Since most fibroids stop growing or may even shrink as you approach menopause, your healthcare provider may simply suggest "watchful waiting." With this approach, your healthcare provider monitors your symptoms carefully to be sure that there are no significant changes.
If your fibroids are large or cause significant symptoms, treatment may be an option. Treatment will be discussed with you by your healthcare provider based on your age, fertility goals, the number and size of your fibroids, any previous fibroids treatments, other health conditions.
In general, treatment for fibroids may include:
What are the complications of uterine fibroids?
It is uncommon for fibroids to cause severe health consequences. However, women can have heavy bleeding which can lead to dangerous anemia. Rarely, large fibroids can press on the bladder and ureter, leading to kidney damage. Other complications include infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss.
Key points about uterine fibroids
- Uterine fibroids are the most common tumor of the reproductive tract.
- Fibroids are not cancer. They do not increase a woman's risk for uterine cancer, and they do not become cancer.
- Women who are nearing menopause are at the greatest risk for fibroids. Fibroids are most often found during a routine pelvic exam.
- Symptoms may include heavy and prolonger periods, bleeding between periods and pelvic pain.
- Fibroids are most often found during a routine pelvic exam.
- There are a variety of treatment options available, which may include watchful waiting, medicines or surgery.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
UCLA Health Library: Uterine Fibroids