Many women have them and don’t even know it.
Fibroids, benign tumors that grow within the wall of the uterus, are common in women. In fact, one study found that by age 50, 70-80% of women had fibroids, and many didn’t even know they had them. While they can be worrisome, especially for women of childbearing age, they are treatable. Here’s what you need to know about fibroids.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids, also know as leiomyomas, are usually benign (noncancerous) tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus, or womb. Very rarely (less than one in 1,000), will a fibroid be cancerous. Most women have multiple fibroids. Fibroids can be smaller than a pea or grow as large as a cantaloupe.
Who gets fibroids?
Any woman can develop fibroids, but you may be at increased risk if:
- You’re between the ages of 30 to 40 years
- You have a family history of fibroids
- You’re African American
- You’re overweight
- You eat a lot of red meat
Doctors don’t know for sure what causes fibroids but they think it has to do with elevated hormone levels. Fibroids tend to grow during pregnancy when hormones are high and shrink when anti-hormone medications are given and after menopause.
What are the symptoms?
Fibroids don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do they may include:
- Heavy or prolonged menstruation
- Feeling full in the pelvic region (lower stomach)
- Enlargement in the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the lower back
- Pregnancy and delivery complications
- Reproductive problems
Your doctor may feel fibroids during a pelvic exam and will confirm the diagnosis using ultrasound or other imaging tests.
How are fibroids treated?
Not everyone needs treatment. It depends on your symptoms, location and size of the fibroids, your age and if you might want to have children in the future. If the fibroids aren’t causing bothersome symptoms and if you don’t plan to have children in the future, you may not need to do anything.
For mild symptoms, doctors often suggest ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain and discomfort. If you have heavy bleeding, low-dose birth control methods can be used. Other hormone-type drugs may be used to shrink fibroids before surgery.
If the fibroids are especially large or cause severe pain, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them. A hysterectomy can be performed to remove the fibroids along with the uterus in women who are nearing menopause or okay with not having children in the future. Alternatively, a myomectomy, in which doctors remove only the fibroids, is an option that preserves fertility. Other procedures are done in certain cases, including endometrial ablation, uterine fibroid embolization, and myolysis.
Talk to your doctor about all your treatment options and together you can come up with the best treatment plan for you.