The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describe uterine fibroids as noncancerous tumors that develop in the uterus. As many as one in five women may have fibroids during their childbearing years.
Women can have one or several fibroids. WomensHealth.gov reports they can as small as an apple seed or as big as a grapefruit. In unusual cases, they can become very large.
The exact cause of fibroids is unknown. But according to AmericanPregnancy.org, they appear to be related to estrogen. Tumors grow when taking birth control pills containing estrogen and during pregnancy when more hormones are released. Following menopause, tumors tend to shrink and even disappear.
Fibroids are often described by their location in the uterus. Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus. Intramural fibroids, the most common type, grow within the wall of the uterus. Submucosal fibroids, the least common, develop just under the lining of the uterine cavity. Pedunculated fibroids grow on stalks that extend from the surface of the uterus or into the uterine cavity.
An About.com Women’s Health article says interligamentous fibroids grow sideways between the ligaments which support the uterus in the abdominal region. And the rarest form, parasitic fibroid, occurs when a fibroid attaches to another organ.
Uterine fibroids are typically discovered during an annual pelvic exam, CT scan or ultrasound.
Fibroids often have no symptoms. NIH reports the more common symptoms are abdominal fullness, gas, or constipation; bleeding between periods; increase in urinary frequency; heavy menstrual bleeding; longer than normal menstrual periods; pelvic cramping or pain with periods; sensation of fullness or pressure in lower abdomen and pain during intercourse.
WomensHealth.gov lists gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRH-a) as drugs used to treat fibroids. These can shrink fibroids. GnRH-as offer temporary relief. Stop taking the drug and the fibroids often grow back quickly.
Several types of surgery are used to treat fibroids.
About.com says myomectomy is the surgical removal of each individual tumor without damage to the uterus, preserving the ability to conceive. However, fibroids will often grow back.
NIH says uterine artery embolization stops the blood supply to the fibroid, causing it to die and shrink.
WomensHealth.gov reports endometrial ablation is when the uterine lining is removed or destroyed to control very heavy bleeding. This can be done with laser, wire loops, boiling water, electric current, microwaves, or freezing.
Myolysis is a procedure which uses electric shock to shrink the fibroids.
NIH says hysterectomy may be an option if medicines don’t work and other surgeries aren’t an option. WomensHealth.gov adds hysterectomy is used when a woman's fibroids are large, if she has heavy bleeding, is either near or past menopause, or does not want children.
Benign Uterine Fibroid Tumors: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Benign Uterine Fibroid Tumors. About.com by The New York Times Company. Web 29 Aug 2011.
Fibroid Tumors. AmericanPregnancy.org by American Pregnancy Association. Web 29 Aug 2011.
Uterine Fibroids. MedLinePlus by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web 29 Aug 2011.
Uterine fibroids fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web 29 Aug 2011.
Reviewed August 29, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith