What are Fibroids?
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in the walls of the uterus. They can occur in bunches or alone, and can be very tiny or grow to the size of a cantaloupe. An estimated 70% of all women of reproductive age have uterine fibroids, but most of those experience no symptoms and are never diagnosed. Fibroids are dependent on estrogen for their development and growth, and they are sustained by blood from the uterine artery.
Common symptoms of fibroids include:
- heavy menstrual bleeding - If you have fibroids, you may be having menstrual periods that last longer than seven days. Women with fibroids can also have very heavy bleeding, requiring new sanitary pads as often as every hour.
- cramping or abdominal pain - Fibroids can press against other organs in the abdomen and cause pain or cramping.
- constipation - Larger fibroids can press against the bowels and prevent the passage of waste.
- incontinence or frequent urination - Fibroids can press against the bladder,
leaving less space to store urine.
- back or leg pain - fibroids pressing on spinal nerves can cause back or leg pain.
- pain during sexual intercourse - The additional masses inside the uterus can cause pressure on the cervix or uterine walls. This can cause either a dull or sharp pain during intercourse.
- bloating or distended belly - Fibroids can grow large enough to cause a change in a woman's shape. The size of fibroids is sometimes described by the month of pregnancy they mimic (i.e., "a four-month fibroid"). It is not unusual for a uterus with fibroids to reach the size of a four- or five-month pregnant uterus.
- reproductive difficulties - Fibroids that distort the size and shape of the uterus can cause infertility, miscarriages, and premature labor.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, you may have uterine fibroids. You should call your usual doctor or make an appointment to talk to one of our doctors. In either case, you'll discuss your symptoms and be given a standard manual exam to check the shape and size of your uterus. An abnormally shaped or unusually large uterus may indicate fibroids.
Fibroids may also be discovered during your routine annual exam.
If fibroids are suspected, an MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) exam will be performed to confirm the diagnosis and assess the size and shape of the fibroids. Ultrasounds and CT (computer tomography) are also commonly used to diagnose fibroids, but MRIs provide additional distinguishing information so are becoming more widely used. There are other techniques as well, including ones that utilize dye and x-rays or ultrasounds to view the uterus, or hysteroscopy or laparoscopy, which both use cameras to view the uterus from inside the body. Our doctors use MRI as their primary diagnosis confirmation tool.
The cause of fibroids are as yet unknown, but scientists have been able to determine several factors that can make women more prone to developing fibroids.
- Fibroids are two to five times more prevalent in black and Asian women than white women.
- The chance of fibroids is higher in women who are heavy for their height.
- Fibroids are less likely to occur in women who are smokers
- Fibroids are less likely to occur in women who have given birth.
Image courtesy of womenshealth.gov.