Uterine fibroids are noncancerous (benign) tumors that develop in the womb (uterus), a female reproductive organ. They can cause abnormal bleeding and pain and depending upon their position in the uterus, they may impair infertility. Fibroids sometimes protrude directly into the uterine cavity – and sometimes are within the uterus itself. The location and size can sometimes lead to miscarriages.
Uterine fibroids are common – as many as one in five women may have fibroids during their childbearing years, and half of women have fibroids by age 50. Fibroids are rare in women under age 20, and they are more common in African Americans.
The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. However, their growth has been linked to the hormone estrogen. As long as a woman with fibroids is menstruating, a fibroid will probably continue to grow, usually slowly. Fibroids can be so tiny that you need a microscope to see them. However, they can also grow very large. They may fill the entire uterus and may weigh several pounds.
Often, there are no symptoms, but more common symptoms of uterine fibroids are:
Uterine fibroids may be difficult to detect during a physical exam, especially if the woman is overweight. Commonly, physicians discover fibroids via ultrasound or occasionally by magnetic resonance imaging.
Fibroids may be located several places in the uterus, but those that affect fertility tend to be the ones that change the shape of the uterine cavity or are within the cavity itself. Removal of these fibroids may increase fertility.
Some women do not need treatment, instead requiring only pelvic exams or periodic ultrasounds to monitor the fibroid’s growth. Treatment for the symptoms of fibroids may include:
If removal of fibroids is called for by a physician, these four surgical procedures remove fibroids:
Medical studies have shown that both uterine artery embolism and myomectomy may preserve or restore fertility after removal of fibroids. These two procedures are done by different specialists and have conflicting claims. Be careful and consult your physician on the best alternatives.