What are uterine fibroids?
Fibroids are firm, dense tumors
made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus.
About 1 in 5 to 1 in 2 women of reproductive age have fibroids, but not all are
diagnosed. Some estimates say that up to 3 in 10 to about 3 in 4women will have fibroids
sometime during their childbearing years. Only about one-third of these fibroids are
large enough to be found by a healthcare provider during a physical exam.
In more than 9 in 10 fibroid cases,
the tumors are not cancer. These tumors are not linked to cancer and don’t increase a
woman’s risk for uterine cancer. They may be as small as a pea to as large as a
softball or small grapefruit.
What causes uterine fibroid tumors?
Doctors don’t know what causes
uterine fibroids. It may be that each tumor develops from an abnormal muscle cell in the
uterus. This cell multiplies rapidly because of the effect of estrogen.
Who is at risk for uterine fibroids?
Women who are nearing menopause are
at the greatest risk for fibroids. This is because of their long exposure to high levels
of estrogen. Women who are obese and of African-American background also seem to be at
higher risk. The reasons for this are not clearly understood.
Other risk factors:
- Diet high in red meat
- Family history of fibroids
- High blood pressure
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Some women who have fibroids have
no symptoms. Or they have only mild symptoms. Other women have more severe symptoms.
These are the most common symptoms for uterine fibroids:
- Heavy or lengthy periods
- Abnormal bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain. This happens as the tumor
presses on pelvic organs
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- A firm mass often near the middle of
the pelvis. This can be felt by your healthcare provider.
How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?
Fibroids are most often found
during a routine pelvic exam. Your healthcare provider may feel a firm, irregular pelvic
mass during an abdominal or pelvic exam. You may need other tests. These include:
X-ray. Beams of energy make images
of bones and internal organs on film.
Transvaginal ultrasound. This is an
ultrasound test using a small tool (transducer) that is placed in the vagina.
MRI. This test uses a large magnet,
radio waves, and a computer to make 2-D images of an internal organ or
Hysterosalpingography. This is an
X-ray exam of the uterus and fallopian tubes that uses dye. It’s often done to rule
out blocked fallopian tubes.
Hysteroscopy. For this test, the
healthcare provider uses a viewing tool (hysteroscope) to look at the canal of the
cervix and the inside of the uterus. The tool is inserted through the vagina.
Endometrial biopsy. For this
procedure, the healthcare provider takes a sample of tissue through a tube inserted
into the uterus.
Blood test. This is to check for
iron-deficiency anemia if the fibroid causes heavy bleeding.