Uterine fibroids, also known as myomas, are tumors that grow in the uterine walls. They are usually benign and can range in size and quantity. The exact cause of uterine fibroids is unknown, but they may be affected by hormones and genetics, as women are more likely to develop fibroids if they have a family member with the condition. Most fibroids do not cause any symptoms and do not require any treatment, however, in some cases they may lead to pregnancy complications. Uterine fibroids are most common in women over the age of 30 and during the reproductive years.
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are growths or benign masses that can form on the inside or outside of the uterus. In many cases, women do not experience any symptoms from uterine fibroids. If symptoms are present, the most common symptoms may include:
- Heavy bleeding
- Feeling of fullness
- Pelvic pressure
- Lower back pain
- Frequent urination
If uterine fibroids grow very large they may put pressure on the large bowel, causing painful bowel movements, constipation or hemorrhoids. In some cases, sexual intercourse may also be painful because of large uterine fibroids.
Complications of Uterine Fibroids
In rare cases, uterine fibroids may cause cause infertility or pregnancy complications. Uterine fibroids may prevent implantation and growth of an embryo. If the fibroids cause infertility or miscarriage, a doctor may recommend removing the fibroids before attempting another pregnancy. Fibroids present during pregnancy may increase the risk of premature delivery and cesarean section.
Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are commonly discovered during a pelvic exam. If fibroids are suspected, the doctor may confirm the diagnosis with blood tests and additional imaging tests that may include:
- MRI scan
Treatment of Uterine Fibroids
In cases where women do not experience any problems or symptoms with uterine fibroids, no treatment may be necessary as doctors may choose to just monitor the condition. Uterine fibroids usually grow slowly and tend to shrink after menopause, when reproductive hormones levels drop. When uterine fibroids cause uncomfortable symptoms, hormonal medications may be prescribed to shrink the fibroids. A common method used to treat uterine fibroids is a procedure called fibroid embolization. Fibroid embolization, is a minimally invasive procedure that blocks blood flow to uterine fibroids, shrinking or destroying the tumors that grow on the uterine walls. There are several other minimally invasive procedures available to treat uterine fibroids without the use of surgery. These procedures may include:
- Laparoscopic myomectomy
- Endometrial ablation and resection of fibroids
In cases where the uterine fibroids have grown very large, more traditional surgical methods such as an abdominal myomectomy or hysterectomy may be performed. A hysterectomy is an option only for women who longer want to have children, as the entire uterus is removed. Except for a hysterectomy, and while rare, there is a possibility that new fibroids may develop after all treatments have been performed.