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Uterine Fibroids


Topic Overview

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are lumps that grow on your uterus. You can have fibroids on the insideClick here to see an illustration., on the outsideClick here to see an illustration., or in the wallClick here to see an illustration. of your uterus.

Your doctor may call them fibroid tumors, leiomyomas, or myomas. But fibroids are not cancer. You do not need to do anything about them unless they are causing problems.

Fibroids are very common in women in their 30s and 40s. But fibroids usually do not cause problems. Many women never even know they have them.

What causes uterine fibroids?

Doctors are not sure what causes fibroids. But the female hormones estrogen and progesterone seem to make them grow. Your body makes the highest levels of these hormones during the years when you have periods.

Your body makes less of these hormones after you stop having periods (menopause). Fibroids usually shrink after menopause and stop causing symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Often fibroids do not cause symptoms. Or the symptoms may be mild, like periods that are a little heavier than normal. If the fibroids bleed or press on your organs, the symptoms may make it hard for you to enjoy life. Fibroids make some women have:

  • Long, gushing periods and cramping.
  • Fullness or pressure in their belly.
  • Low back pain.
  • Pain during sex.
  • An urge to urinate often.

Heavy bleeding during your periods can lead to anemia. Anemia can make you feel weak and tired.

Sometimes fibroids can make it harder to get pregnant. Or they may cause problems during pregnancy, such as going into early labor or losing the baby (miscarriage).

How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?

To find out if you have fibroids, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. He or she will do a pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus.

Your doctor may send you to have an ultrasound or another type of test that shows pictures of your uterus. These help your doctor see how large your fibroids are and where they are growing.

Your doctor may also do blood tests to look for anemia or other problems.

How are they treated?

If your fibroids are not bothering you, you do not need to do anything about them. Your doctor will check them during your regular visits to see if they have gotten bigger.

If your main symptoms are pain and heavy bleeding, try an over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen, and ask your doctor about birth control pills. These can help you feel better and make your periods lighter. If you have anemia, take iron pills and eat foods that are high in iron, like meats, beans, and leafy green vegetables.

If your symptoms bother you a lot, you may want to think about surgery. Most of the time fibroids grow slowly, so you can take time to consider your choices.

There are two main types of surgery for fibroids. Which is better for you depends on your age, how big your fibroids are, where they are, and whether you want to have children.

  • Surgery to take out the fibroids is called myomectomy. Your doctor may suggest it if you hope to get pregnant or just want to keep your uterus. It may improve your chances of having a baby. But it does not always work, and fibroids may grow back.
  • Surgery to take out your uterus is called hysterectomy. This is the most common surgery for fibroids. And it is the only way to make sure that fibroids will not come back. Your symptoms will go away, but you will not be able to get pregnant.

It is normal to have mixed feelings about hysterectomy. Some women are sad to lose part of what makes them a woman. Other women just want their symptoms to go away. If you are thinking about hysterectomy, learn all you can about it. This will help you make the choice that is right for you.

There are a number of other ways to treat fibroids. One treatment is called uterine fibroid embolization. It can shrink fibroids. It may be a choice if you do not plan to have children but want to keep your uterus. It is not a surgery, so most women feel better soon. But fibroids may grow back.

If you are near menopause, you might try medicines to treat your symptoms. Heavy periods will stop after menopause.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about uterine fibroids:

  • What are uterine fibroids?
  • What causes them?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • What increases my risk for uterine fibroids?
  • Can I prevent uterine fibroids?

Being diagnosed:

  • Who should I see if I think I have uterine fibroids?
  • How will my doctor diagnose them?
  • What is a pelvic ultrasound?
  • What is a hysteroscopy?

Getting treatment:

  • How are uterine fibroids treated?
  • What medicines are used to treat them?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • What is uterine fibroid embolization (uterine artery embolization)?
  • Click here to view a Decision Point.Should I use GnRH-a therapy to treat uterine fibroids?
  • Click here to view a Decision Point.Should I have uterine fibroid embolization?
  • Click here to view a Decision Point.Should I have surgery to treat uterine fibroids?

Living with uterine fibroids:

  • What can I do at home to relieve my symptoms?
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