(Copyright Parlay International)
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths on a woman's uterus. Other names for them include myomas, fibromyomas, leiomyomas or fibromas. Fibroids are the most common kind of abnormal growths in the pelvis and occur most frequently in women in their thirties and forties.
Where do they come from?
Fibroids develop from cells in the muscle of the uterus wall and vary in size and shape. They can grow on the inside or outside wall, and even between the inner and outer layers of the wall. Or they can become stem-like formations on the uterus. Fibroids can be small (pea size) or large growths over six inches across. In some women, they can totally fill the pelvis and be mistaken for pregnancy.
Even though fibroids are common, doctors don't know what causes them. Some think the female hormone estrogen may increase fibroids, because these growths may swell in pregnancy (when estrogen rises) and may shrink during menopause (when estrogen stops). Your doctor cannot predict how your uterine fibroids will grow.
Making a diagnosis
You may not know you have uterine fibroids, because you have no symptoms. Your doctor may first find these growths during your regular pelvic exam and may recommend further testing. Such tests may include ultrasound, laparoscopy (insertion of a thin, telescope-like instrument through a small incision in the pelvis), hysteroscopy (insertion of a special instrument in your uterus) and hysterosalpingogram (an X-ray test using a dye to see your uterus and fallopian tubes).
Your fibroids may cause no symptoms at all, but if you experience any of the following, see your doctor:
- Changes in your periods such as increased bleeding, bleeding more often or for a longer period or more menstrual pain
- Unexpected bleeding from the vagina
- Pain in the abdomen or lower back
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Frequent urination
- Rectal pain or difficulty
Treat only if necessary
Most fibroids cause no problems and are not treated. But if they become twisted (as stemlike fibroids can), severe pain, upset stomach, fever and vaginal bleeding can result. Fibroids can become infected and, in very rare cases, turn cancerous. If you are having increasingly heavy menstrual periods, abnormal vaginal bleeding, or a rapid increase in the size of the fibroid, you may need treatment. Surgery or hormone therapy can help. The two most common surgical procedures for fibroids are myomectomy (taking out the fibroids only) and hysterectomy (taking out the whole uterus).
Uterine fibroids and pregnancy
A small percentage of pregnant women are recognized as having uterine fibroids. The fibroids are usually present before the pregnancy and cause no problems during pregnancy. But if they increase in size during this time, they can cause discomfort, pressure and pain. In rare cases, a large fibroid can block the cervix or uterine opening, requiring a Cesarean delivery. Very large fibroids can also distort the uterine cavity and may cause a miscarriage.