Uterine Fibroids 101: Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that commonly present themselves during pregnancy. Fibroids differ in size, ranging from seedlings that are undetectable to the human eye to large masses that can enlarge the uterus.
Many women develop uterine fibroids at some point in their lives. By the age of 50, roughly 70 percent of white women and 80 percent of African Americans have had fibroids.
UTERINE FIBROIDS 101: SYMPTOMS
In many cases, uterine fibroids cause no symptoms, and as a result, many women are unaware they have them. The severity of symptoms differs based on the size and location of fibroids. Common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Abnormal menstrual periods (lasting more than a week)
- Pelvic pressure and/or pain
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty emptying bladder
- Backache and/or leg pain
While uterine fibroids are not typically considered life threatening, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience:
- Pelvic pain that persists
- Heavy and prolonged periods
- Regular spotting or bleeding between periods
- Difficulty emptying bladder
UTERINE FIBROIDS 101: CAUSES
Little is known about what causes uterine fibroids. However, doctors believe these factors may play a role:
Genetic changes - Uterine fibroids often contain genes that are abnormal compared from normal uterine cells.
Hormones - Estrogen and progesterone are believed to promote the growth of fibroids. Uterine fibroids contain greater levels of these two hormones in comparison to normal uterine cells. Additionally, fibroids often shrink in size after menopause, which may be caused by the rapid decrease of hormone production.
Other growth factors - Insulin-like growth factor and other substances that help the body maintain tissues may affect fibroid growth
UTERINE FIBROIDS 101: TREATMENT
Treatment of uterine fibroids vary based on their size and location. It is important you talk with your doctor to determine the best possible treatment for your case. Common treatment options include:
Watchful waiting - Fibroids are not cancerous and rarely cause complications during pregnancy. Considering many women do not develop any symptoms, your doctor may advise you to monitor your symptoms and determine whether or not they are bearable.
Medications - While there are no medications that can completely eliminate fibroids, some may shrink them and treat heavy menstrual bleeding caused by fibroids. These medications include Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists, progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD), tranexamic acid (Lysteda), and more. It is best to talk with your doctor to determine which medication may be best to treat your specific case.
Surgery - The two most common surgical procedures used to treat uterine fibroids are abdominal myomectomy and hysterectomy. The former involves a doctor using and open abdominal surgical procedure, which may cause scarring and affect fertility. A hysterectomy is the full removal of the uterus. While this is the only permanent solution for uterine fibroids, it is considered a very serious surgery, as it prevents you from ever having children.