Types, Causes, Risks, and Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids, also called myomas, are abnormal growths that develop on the uterus. Learn about the risks, signs, symptoms and treatment of this common disorder.
Uterine fibroids, also called myomas, are abnormal growths that develop on the uterus.
Sometimes, these tumors grow rather large. They can cause intense, frequent abdominal pain during your period. However, some cases don’t present any symptoms.
Generally, these fibroids are believed to be benign. Between 70% to 80% of women 50 and older have them. That’s why it’s important to know a little bit about them.
First, let’s take a look at the different types of uterine fibroids.
What kinds of uterine fibroids exist?
These form outside of your uterus in the serous membrane. They can grow so large that your stomach looks much larger on one side.
Subserosal fibroids sometimes grow a stalk. This is a small base that supports the tumor. When this happens, they are called pedunculated 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. These include heavy bleeding during menstruation and problems with fertility.
What causes 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.
Who is at risk for developing uterine fibroids?
Pregnancy and a family history of uterine fibroids are just some of the things to watch out for. Women who have been one of more of the following have a greater risk of developing them:
- Older than 30
- Of African descent
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
The symptoms you can experience depending on the location, size, and the number of fibroids you have.
If the fibroid is small or if you’re going through menopause, you might not have any symptoms at all.
Fibroids can begin during and after menopause. Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Heavy bleeding during periods.
- Back pain in your pelvis or back.
- Increased menstrual cramps.
- Frequent urination.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- A longer duration of menstruation.
- Pressure, bloating, or inflammation in your lower abdomen.
How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have a uterine fibroid, talk to your gynecologist. They will then do a pelvic examination. They use this to test the condition, size, and form of your uterus.
Based on what your gynecologist finds, it is possible that s/he will need to do the following tests:
- Ultrasound: This kind of test uses high-frequency sound waves to make an image of your uterus on a computer screen. This lets your gynecologist see the internal structure. As a result, s/he will be able to determine what kind of fibroid you are suffering from.
- Another kind of ultrasound is a transvaginal ultrasound. In this case, your doctor inserts an ultrasound transducer in your vagina. This gives clearer images since it is much closer to your uterus during the process.
- Pelvic Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This test uses an imaging device to reproduce images of your uterus, ovaries, and pelvic organs.
How can you treat fibroids?
It’s important that your doctor develops a treatment plan. This should be based on your age, the size of your fibroids, and your health in general. This can include using a combination of treatments.
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.
On the other hand, there are options that control the bleeding and pain, but they don’t reduce your fibroids:
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) that give off progesterone.
- Over the counter painkillers, like ibuprofen.
- Birth control pills.
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.
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.
Overall, there are many options for the treatment of this common problem that, in many cases, may not even have any symptoms.
When in doubt, talk to your doctor if you think that you may have uterine fibriods.