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Uterine Fibroids

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

A uterine fibroid is the most common benign (not cancerous) tumor of a woman's uterus (womb). Fibroids are tumors of the smooth muscle found in the wall of the uterus. They can develop within the uterine wall itself or attach to it. They may grow as a single tumor or in clusters. Uterine fibroids can cause excessive menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, and frequent urination.

  • These growths occur in up to 50% of all women and are one leading cause of hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) in the United States. An estimated 600,000 hysterectomies are performed in the US annually, and at least one-third of these procedures are for fibroids. Medications and newer, less invasive surgical treatments are now available to help control the growth of fibroids.
  • Fibroids start in the muscle tissues of the uterus. They can grow into the uterine cavity (submucosal), into the thickness of the uterine wall (intramuscular), or on the surface of the uterus (subsersoal) into the abdominal cavity. Some may occur as pedunculated masses (fibroids growing on a stalk off of the uterus).
  • Although these tumors are called fibroids, this term is misleading because they consist of muscle tissue, not fibrous tissue. The medical term for a fibroid is leiomyoma, a type of myoma or mesenchymal tumor.
Picture of uterine fibroids
Picture of uterine fibroids

What Causes Uterine Fibroids?

The exact reasons why some women develop fibroids are unknown. Fibroids tend to run in families, and affected women often have a family history of fibroids. Women of African descent are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids than women of other races.

Fibroids grow in response to stimulation by the hormone estrogen, produced naturally in the body. These growths can show up as early as age 20, but tend to shrink after menopause when the body stops producing large amounts of estrogen.

Fibroids can be tiny and cause no problems, or they also can grow to weigh several pounds. Fibroids generally tend to grow slowly.

The following factors have been associated with the presence of fibroids:

  • Being overweight, obesity
  • Never having given birth to a child (called nulliparity)
  • Onset of the menstrual period prior to age 10
  • African American heritage (occurring 3-9 times more often than in Caucasian women)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Uterine Fibroids:

Uterine Fibroids - Describe Your Experience

Please describe your experience with uterine fibroids (benign tumors of the uterus).

Uterine Fibroids - Outlook and Prognosis

Did you have your uterine fibroids removed? Describe your experience and prognosis.

Uterine Fibroids - Symptoms

What are your symptoms of uterine fibroid?

Uterine Fibroid Symptoms

Common Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Most fibroids, even large ones, produce no symptoms; however, when women do experience symptoms, the most common are the following:

  • irregular vaginal bleeding;
  • pressure on the bladder, which may cause frequent urination;
  • pressure on the rectum, resulting in constipation;
  • pelvic pressure, "feeling full" in the lower abdomen, lower abdominal pain;
  • increase in size around the waist and change in abdominal contour...

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Uterine Fibriod Embolization »

Uterine leiomyomas, better known as uterine fibroids, are benign smooth muscle tumors of the uterus.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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