Uterine fibroids are growths within the uterus that can result in pain and discomfort. Fibroids are also called leiomyomas and are made are made up of muscle and connective tissue; they may range in size from being microscopic to being larger than a grapefruit. One important fact about fibroids is that they are almost always noncancerous, but still may need to be removed surgically in order to treat symptoms. The rate at which they grow is unpredictable, and a woman may have more than one fibroid at a time.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids
A woman with uterine fibroids may suffer from:
- Bleeding outside of her periods
- Longer lasting menstrual periods than normal
- Pain during sex
- Back pain
- A need to urinate frequently
Fibroids may be asymptomatic and discovered only during a pelvic examination. The pelvic exam may detect changes in the shape of the woman’s uterus. If the patient’s uterus is abnormally large, is distended or has an irregular shape, a doctor may be concerned about fibroid growths and order tests to confirm their suspicion. Those tests will often consist of an trans-vaginal ultrasound or MRI, along with a pap smear, a pregnancy test and a test of the endometrium to check for endometrial cancer or pregnancy.
Types of Fibroids
- Submucosal fibroids grow in the uterine lining and may cause heavier than normal menstrual bleeding.
- Subserosal fibroids grow outwards from the outer covering of the uterus and may create pressure on the bladder resulting in incontinence and the constant urge to urinate.
- Intramural fibroids grow within the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Pedunculated fibroids have a stalk attaching them to the uterus and may grow either on the outside of the uterus or inside it.
What Causes Fibroid Growths?
The cause is unknown, but the hormone estrogen has been shown to have some connection to it. Fibroids are rare in women who are under the age of 20 and usually stop growing after a woman starts menopause. They are known to grow at points when a woman’s estrogen levels are high, like during pregnancy. Other factors in fibroid growth include genetics. Women of African-American descent are more likely to get uterine fibroids by a factor of three.
About Fibroid Therapy
In most cases, fibroids are only be treated if they are causing symptoms, with the most common procedure for removing them being hysterectomy. They are the most common reasons for hysterectomies. A hysterectomy eliminates the potential for recurrence of fibroids, but also eliminates the possibility of a woman getting pregnant in the future. Women who want retain the option of bearing children can choose to have a myomectomy done instead of a hysterectomy. A myomectomy involves the surgical removal of the individual fibroids, rather than the whole uterus.
About Fibroid Medications
None of the drug therapies for uterine fibroids get rid of them entirely. Some of the drugs work by lowering estrogen and placing the woman in a state similar to menopause. The lowered estrogen may shrink the fibroids and relieve symptoms. Other methods of treatment, such as using contraceptive pills, have been shown to control excessive menstrual bleeding, but do not affect the size of the fibroid.
Fibroids are a common condition that while potentially painful, are treatable and are not likely to cause long-lasting harm. Women who exhibit symptoms of having fibroids should see their healthcare provider as soon as possible to get treatment.
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