Uterine fibroids are a common type of cancer-free tumor that can grow inside and out of your womb. Not all fibroids cause symptoms, but when they do, symptoms can include heavy menstrual bleeding, back pain, frequent urination, and pain during sex. Smaller fibroids usually do not require treatment, but larger fibroids can be treated with medication or surgery.
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What are uterine fibroids and what are the risk factors?
What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas) are tumors that form tissue and connections from the uterine wall. These plants are usually benign. Your uterus is a horizontal vertebra at the waist. The normal size of your uterus is like a lemon. It is also called the uterus and is the place where the baby grows and develops during pregnancy.
Fibroids can grow as a single tumor (single growth) or in clusters. Fibroid collections can range in size from 1 mm to over 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter or even more. By comparison, they can be as large as the size of a watermelon. These tumors can grow inside the uterine wall, inside the large organ, or even outside. Fibroids can vary in size, number, and location inside and outside your uterus.
You may have a variety of symptoms with uterine fibroids and these may not be the same symptoms that another woman with fibroids will experience. Because of how unique fibroids can be, your treatment plan will depend on your condition.
Are fibroids common?
Fibroids are the most common type of growth in your pelvis. About 40 to 80% of women have fibroids. However, most women do not notice the symptoms of their fibroids, so they do not realize they have fibroids. This can happen if you have small fibroids – called asymptomatic because they do not cause you to feel something unusual.
Who is at risk for uterine fibroids?
- There are a few risk factors that can contribute to your chances of developing fibroids. These may include:
- Obesity and overweight (a person is considered obese if they are over 20% over a healthy weight).
- Family history of fibroids.
- The onset of menstruation is early (finding your period at a young age).
- Age of menopause.
Where do fibroids grow?
There are a few places inside and outside your uterus where fibroids can grow. The location and size of your fibroids are important to your treatment. Where your fibroids grow, how big they are, and how many of them will determine which type of treatment will work best for you or if treatment is needed.
There are different names given to the places where your fibroids are found and in the womb. These terms describe not only where the fibroid is located, but also how it is attached. Some areas where you can have uterine fibroids include:
- Submucosal fibroids: In this case, fibroids grow inside the uterus (hole) where the baby grows during pregnancy. Think of the plants that go down into the space in the middle of the womb.
- Intramural fibroids: These fibroids are embedded in the wall of the uterus itself. Think of the sides of the uterus as the walls of a house. Fibroids grow inside this muscular wall.
- Subserosal fibroids: Found outside the uterus at this time, these fibroids are closely connected to the outer wall of the uterus.
- Pedunculated fibroids: A very rare type, these fibroids are found outside the uterus. However, pedunculated fibroids are attached to the uterus by a small stem. They are often described as mushrooms because they have a stem and then a very wide surface.
What do fibroids look like?
Fibroids are usually circular structures that can look like lumps of smooth muscle tissue. In some cases, they can be attached to a small stem, giving it a mushroom-like appearance.
Is it cancer of fibroids?
It is very rare for a fibroid to go through mutations that turn it into a cancerous or malignant tumor. 1 in 350 women with fibroids will have malignancy. There are no 100% predictable trials in detecting fibroid-related cancer. However, people who develop rapid uterine fibroids, or fibroids that develop during menopause, should be screened immediately.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
What causes uterine fibroids?
The causes of fibroids are unknown. Most fibroids occur in women of childbearing age. They are usually not seen in young women who have not yet gone through the first period.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Most fibroids do not cause any symptoms and do not require treatment without regular check-ups by your healthcare provider. These are usually small fibroids. If you do not have symptoms, it is called asymptomatic fibroid. Major fibroids can cause you to have a variety of symptoms, including:
- Severe or painful bleeding during your period (menstruation).
- Bleeding during menstruation.
- Feeling full under your stomach/constipation.
- Frequent urination (this can happen if the fibroid compresses your bladder).
- Pain during sex.
- Low back pain.
- Chronic vaginal discharge.
- Inability to urinate or urinate completely from your bladder.
Increased abdominal distention (enlargement), which makes your stomach look pregnant.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids often stabilize or disappear after menopause due to low levels of hormones in your body.
How to get uterine fibroids?
In most cases, fibroids begin to be diagnosed during a routine examination with your female health care provider. They can be felt during pelvic examinations and can be detected during gynecologic examinations or during obstetric care. Often your description of major bleeding and other related symptoms may warn your healthcare provider to consider fibroids as part of a diagnosis. There are several tests that can be performed to confirm fibroids and determine their size and location.
These tests may include:
- Ultrasonography: This non-invasive imaging test creates an image of your internal organs with sound waves. Depending on the size of the uterus, an ultrasound can be performed with a transvaginal or transabdominal line.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This scan creates detailed images of your internal organs using magnets and radio waves.
- Computed tomography (CT): A CT scan uses X-ray images to capture detailed images of your internal organs at several angles.
- Hysteroscopy: During hysteroscopy, your provider will use a device called a scope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end) to scan fibroids inside your uterus. The diameter passes through the vagina and cervix and is returned to your uterus.
- Hysterosalpingography (HSG): This is a detailed X-ray where the implants are first inserted and X-rays of the uterus are taken. This is often used for women who are also being tested for infertility.
- Sonohysterography: In this imaging test, a small catheter is inserted into the urethra and salt is injected into the catheter into the uterine cavity. This extra fluid helps to create a clearer picture of your uterus than you would normally see during a routine ultrasound.
- Laparoscopy: During this examination, your surgeon will perform a small incision (cut) under your abdomen. A small, flexible tube with a camera will eventually be installed to monitor your internal organs.