1. You’re not alone if you have fibroids.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 80% of all women will develop uterine fibroids at some point during their lives. Because many women don’t experience any symptoms, it’s possible the incidence of uterine fibroids is even higher. Fibroids are considered benign or noncancerous, but can make life painful.
2. There’s only one kind of uterine fibroid.
You may hear them referred to as:
- Uterine myomas
These terms are all just different names for a uterine fibroid, which is a rubbery mass of tissue that arises out of the muscular portion of your uterus.
3. Fibroids come in different shapes and sizes.
Fibroids may be tiny and described as “seedlings” or grow large enough to alter the shape and size of your uterus. Those that grow on the outer wall of your uterus, which is called the serosa, can develop on a narrow stem that supports the larger growth. We call these pedunculated fibroids.
We also classify uterine fibroids according to their location in your uterus. Those that grow within the uterine wall are called intramural fibroids. Submucosal fibroids protrude into the uterine cavity, and subserosal fibroids project outward from the uterus.
4. Your fibroids may or may not cause symptoms.
Some women have no symptoms with their fibroids and are surprised when they’re discovered during a routine gynecological exam. Depending on the location of the growth, we can sometimes feel a fibroid during a pelvic exam.
Many women, however, seek our care for relief of symptoms that they may not connect to fibroids. These symptoms can include:
- Heavy bleeding during your menstrual period
- Periods that last more than a week
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic region
- Frequent urination and difficulty emptying your bladder
- Back or leg pain
Fibroids can cause such heavy bleeding that you may be at risk for developing anemia. A large fibroid that pushes your uterus out of shape can also make it difficult to maintain a pregnancy. You may have trouble becoming pregnant when a fibroid blocks a fallopian tube or otherwise interferes with your reproductive cycle.
5. We recommend diagnostic studies to confirm the diagnosis and further evaluate your fibroids.
We may recommend an ultrasound or other advanced imaging studies, including:
- A hysterosalpingography, during which we use a dye to highlight the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes on X-ray images
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which can show the size and location of fibroids and identify different types of tumors
- Hysterosonography, also called a saline infusion sonogram, during which we expand the uterine cavity with a saline solution to makes it easier to obtain images of submucosal fibroids
- Hysteroscopy, for which we insert a small telescope (hysteroscope) through your cervix and into your uterus so we can carefully examine the walls of your uterus
6. Experts still don’t know what causes fibroids.
It’s not clear yet what causes fibroids, but we can point to a few factors that can increase your risk of developing these growths, which may include:
- Family history of fibroids
- Early menarche (onset of menstruation)
- A diet which includes a high amount of red meat and few green vegetables
- Alcohol use
While they develop from the muscular tissue of your uterus, fibroids have a very different genetic profile than normal uterine muscle tissue, and they contain more estrogen and progesterone receptors. These two hormones stimulate your uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy during your menstrual cycle each month and seem to promote uterine fibroid growth.
7. Fibroid growth patterns can vary greatly, or not.
Uterine fibroids can grow very slowly or enlarge quite rapidly. They may remain the same size for years. They can also shrink on their own, and those that are present during pregnancy often disappear afterward. Your risk of developing new fibroids typically decreases with menopause and tumors already present may shrink.
8. A hysterectomy is not the only option for treating fibroids.
Fibroids were once the leading reason for performing hysterectomies. Advances in medical technology and treatment techniques allow us to choose less drastic measures for treating these benign growths these days.
We may recommend medications that manipulate your hormones enough to control excessive bleeding due to the fibroids. These medications can shrink your fibroids but won’t eliminate them. Birth control pills can also control bleeding but have little effect on the size of your fibroids.
If fibroids are interfering with your ability to become pregnant or maintain a pregnancy, we can consider surgical removal of the fibroids while leaving your uterus and other reproductive organs intact. This type of surgery can often be done laparoscopically, which requires just a few small incisions and offers a faster healing time than traditional, open surgery.
At Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, we care for all aspects of your health, including diagnosis and treatment of uterine fibroids. Call or click to set up an appointment.