Uterine Fibroids

Overview of Benign Tumors in the Uterus

Uterine fibroids are growths that originate from the outer layer of muscle of the uterus. Normal cells that make up the outer layers of muscle begin to grow abnormally, multiply, and accumulate to form tumors. These tumors are almost always benign (noncancerous). Uterine fibroids are very common, and a large percentage of women develop fibroids by the time they reach the age of 50. As these fibroids often cause no apparent symptoms, many women remain unaware that they have them.

While the precise cause of uterine fibroids is unknown, studies suggest that their growth depends on estrogen, which accounts for the fact that they develop after puberty and after age 30. They also tend to shrink or disappear when estrogen levels decrease after menopause. Aside from age, other risk factors include family history, ethnic origin (African American women are more like to develop fibroids), obesity, and eating habits.

Types & Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids may appear alone or as multiple growths and may vary in size. Although they most often occur on the walls of the uterus, they can grow and spread into other areas of the womb. Fibroids are also classified by where they grow in the uterus:

  • Intramural fibroids grow within the muscular wall of the uterus
  • Submucosal fibroids spread into the uterine cavity
  • Subserosal fibroids spread onto the outside wall of the uterus
  • Pedunculated fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus and are attached to the uterus by a base or stalk

While uterine fibroids commonly cause no symptoms, women who do experience signs of these growths may experience the following:

  • Heavy or prolonged periods
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis and during intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Complications during pregnancy and infertility

Depending on the size and location of the fibroid, symptoms can significantly impact one's daily life. Studies also suggest that uterine fibroids may affect fertility and pregnancy. Women who experience these symptoms should consult a medical professional who can conduct various tests to determine the precise cause. A doctor can detect fibroids during pelvic exams, and imaging tests can be used to confirm their presence and arrive at a diagnosis.

Treatment Options

For mild cases or for women who experience no apparent symptoms, a doctor may simply recommend regular checkups to ensure that no problems arise. If treatment is required, several options are available:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to manage symptoms associated with uterine fibroids and may reduce bleeding.
  • Hormonal treatments, including the use of oral contraceptives, progesterone, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), can help control bleeding or shrink fibroids by regulating hormone levels.

Surgical Options 
Depending on the circumstances, your doctor may recommend various surgical procedures.

  • Myomectomy - This procedure removes fibroids while leaving healthy tissue of the uterus intact and is often the most favorable option for women who wish to have children. Myomectomy can be performed using various techniques, including traditional surgical approaches, and laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy.
  • Hysterectomy - The surgical removal of the uterus, a hysterectomy ensures the removal and recurrence of uterine fibroids. Although it has been widely used as a treatment for uterine fibroids, new innovative approaches can be used to avoid the drastic effects associated with the procedure. Laparoscopic and robotic hysterectomy, for example, are minimally invasive procedures that result in less pain, fewer risks, and faster recovery.
  • Other procedures - Other procedures include endometrial ablation (the removal of the lining of the uterus), uterine fibroid embolization (shrinking of the fibroid by cutting off blood flow), and focused ultrasound.

If you are one of the millions of women who has been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, understanding all available treatment options is crucial to making an informed decision. Hysterectomy.com focuses on educating women and the general public about conditions such as uterine fibroids, available treatments, and ways in which a hysterectomy can potentially be avoided. If you wish to learn more about your specific condition and hysterectomies, please complete a contact form.