Types, Causes, Risks, and Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that, in many cases, may be completely asymptomatic. However, if they progressively grow in size they may cause various symptoms and discomfort.
Types, Causes, Risks, and Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Last update: 10 May, 2021

Uterine fibroids, also called myomas, are abnormal growths that develop on the uterus. Sometimes, these tumors grow rather large. The symptoms of uterine fibroids can cause intense, frequent abdominal pain during your period. However, some cases don’t present any symptoms.

It hasn’t been possible to determine the cause of the growth of these tumors in the uterus, however, it’s believed that hormonal changes may play a role.

Here we’ll tell you more about uterine fibroids, from their types to their treatment.

Types of uterine fibroids

  • Subserosal fibroids: these form outside of your uterus in the serous membrane. They can grow so large that your stomach looks much larger on one side.
  • Pedunculated fibroids: subserosal fibroids sometimes grow a stalk. This is a small base that supports the tumor.
  • Submucosal fibroids: these kinds of fibroids develop in the inner lining of your uterus (in the myometrium). They’re not usually as common as others. When they appear, they can cause several problems like heavy bleeding during menstruation and problems with fertility.
A diagram of the symptoms of uterine fibroids.

Causes of uterine fibroids

Scientists still don’t know exactly why fibroids develop. However, various factors can influence their formation:

  • Hormones: ovaries produce hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. These are in charge of lining the uterus every menstrual cycle. They can also cause the growth of these fibroids.
  • Family history: uterine fibroids can be passed on as a genetic trait. If people in your family have had them, it’s possible that you’ll also develop fibroids. This includes your mother, grandmother, and even your sister.
  • Pregnancy: when you’re pregnant, the amount of estrogen and progesterone you produce increase.  Because of this, during pregnancy, it’s possible that uterine fibroids will develop and grow quickly.

In addition to pregnancy and family history, women who are older than 30, of African-American descent or overweight are more likely to have uterine fibroids.

Possible symptoms of uterine fibroids

A woman in pain.

The symptoms you can experience depending on the location, size, and the number of fibroids you have. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • A longer duration of menstruation
  • Back pain in your pelvis or back
  • Increased menstrual cramps
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Pressure, bloating, or inflammation in your lower abdomen

Note: if the fibroid is small or if you’re going through menopause, you might not have any symptoms at all. Furthermore, fibroids can begin during and after menopause.

Uterine fibroids diagnosis

To confirm the diagnosis, the physician performs a gynecologic examination and also a pelvic ultrasound. In relation to this, Drs. Mutch and Biest add that patients may also be asked to undergo the following imaging tests:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound: a device that uses ultrasound is inserted into the vagina
  • Sonography with infusion of saline solution (hysterosonography): an ultrasound is performed after infusing a small amount of fluid into the uterus in order to delineate its interior

Uterine fibroids treatment

Small, asymptomatic uterine fibroids usually don’t require treatment. However, larger ones that cause symptoms do.

Treatment of uterine fibroids usually includes medications to decrease their size and relieve symptoms. It should be noted that these medications may contribute to the patient’s relief, but can’t eliminate the fibroids as such.

A pill to relieve the symptoms of uterine fibroids.

  • You might need to take medication to regulate your hormones. This lets you normalize your levels of estrogen and progesterone. By and large, this reduces heavy menstruation and reduces your fibroids.
  • To control the pain and bleeding use:
    • Progestin-releasing intrauterine devices
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
      • Keep in mind that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve pain, but don’t reduce bleeding
    • Birth control pills

Surgery

The doctor may consider surgery if the patient has heavy bleeding and fibroids that are getting larger and larger.

Treatment isn’t only based on the number of fibroids, their size and symptoms. It also takes into account other factors, such as the patient’s age and current health status. Another option is to surgically remove multiple or large fibroids. An abdominal myomectomy consists of an abdominal incision to get to the uterus and remove the fibroids.

This can include using laparoscopy to reduce the size of the resulting scar.  If there aren’t any other options, your doctor might perform a hysterectomy. In such a case, you should know that you won’t be able to have children in the future.

Minimally invasive procedures:

  • Forced ultrasound surgery is a procedure that can use sound waves to destroy uterine fibroids. It consists of laying in a special MRI machine. This lets the doctors use high-frequency sound waves to see and destroy the fibroids.
  • At the same time, myolysis reduces the size of fibroids. It uses an electric current or a laser. Cryomyolysis can also be used to freeze the fibroids.
  • Endometrial softening consists of the insertion of a special instrument in the uterus. This destroys the uterine lining using heat, an electrical current, hot water, or microwaves.

Although you should be going to the doctor periodically for your respective check-ups, it’s very important you go to your gynecologist if you suspect you may have uterine fibroids.

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