Uterine fibroids form in the muscular portion of the uterus. They are common, benign tumors that can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, and painful, abnormal, and/or prolonged menstruation. Women may also experience pain in their pelvic, abdominal, or lower back areas, frequent urination, or constipation. Cramping or abdominal distention can also result from having uterine fibroids. Some women may have uterine fibroids but do not experience symptoms.
Understanding uterine fibroids is tricky because doctors cannot pinpoint exactly what causes them. What doctors do know, is that a woman’s risk for developing uterine fibroids increases based on obesity, a family history of uterine fibroids, or the early onset of puberty. A diet high in red meat and low on vegetables can also be a contributing factor.
There are more than 200,000 cases a year of uterine fibroids in the U.S. A pelvic exam is a typical first step and imaging tests, such as ultrasound, MRI, and/or saline sonogram may be ordered as well. Uterine fibroids are chronic, which means they can be lifelong. They may become slightly smaller in size after menopause, but they rarely disappear. They can also recur after they are removed.
There are different treatment options for uterine fibroids, depending on their size and location in a woman’s body. The type of treatment your doctor will prescribe most likely will depend on the severity of your uterine fibroids as well as the patient’s expressed goals. Treatment options can include medication or removal of the uterine fibroid. Your doctor will likely want to monitor you for changes or improvements in your uterine fibroids.
Hormonal medications, such as birth control pills or progesterone IUDs, may be recommended. Uterine artery embolization is a procedure done by an interventional radiologist and may be a good option for some women. Surgical interventions include myomectomy (the removal of fibroids) or hysterectomy (the removal of the uterus). Frequently, the surgeries can be done in a minimally invasive way through the robotic or laparoscopic technique.
Dr. Mathews has found that many women who want to maintain the option of fertility have only been offered a hysterectomy by their doctors, even though they may be candidates for minimally invasive, fertility-sparing approaches, such as hysteroscopic or robotic myomectomy. As she points out, how uterine fibroids develop is really unique to the woman and her body--some women will have uterine fibroids larger in size, others will have smaller ones; some uterine fibroids; grow slowly, while others increase rapidly.
Uterine fibroids are most common among women in their 30s and 40s, so women in that age group need to be seen regularly by their gynecologist and checked for abnormalities in their cycles any of the symptoms we reviewed above. African-American women are more likely to develop uterine fibroids than women of other backgrounds, so Dr. Mathews urges her African American patients to be an advocate for their health and get checked, if are they experiencing any of these symptoms we discussed.
WHP specializes in minimally invasive surgery to remove uterine fibroids that result in little pain for their patients—and they can go home the same day. Dr. Mathews says, “Uterine fibroids can affect your quality of life a lot, but you have options. Don’t suffer alone.”
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