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What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that form inside the uterus during a woman’s childbearing years, particularly after the age of 30. The size of fibroids can range from tiny growths that can barely be seen by the naked eye to much larger, bulkier masses.

While up to 80 percent of women may develop fibroids at some point in their lives, most will not even be aware of their presence. In most cases, fibroids will eventually shrink and go away without the need for medical treatment. However, fibroids may also continue to grow, which could cause pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

What Causes Fibroids?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. However, it's believed that the estrogen and progesterone hormones contribute to their formation and growth, while genetics may also be a factor. Additionally, it appears that women who take birth control pills or have already had children may be less likely to develop fibroids.

What Are Fibroid Symptoms?

There are many possible fibroid symptoms including:

  • Extended menstrual periods lasting seven days or longer
  • Excessive bleeding during menstruation
  • Pain in the pelvis, back or legs
  • Frequent urination/and or difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Constipation

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Fibroid Symptoms?

Fibroids are not life-threatening, but depending on their location in the uterus and their size, they can create pain and discomfort, which can be remedied with medical attention.

You should consider seeking medical treatment for fibroid symptoms if:

  • You experience heavier-than-normal menstrual bleeding or if your periods become progressively more painful over a period of three to six months.
  • You have heaviness or discomfort in the lower abdominal region.
  • You experience frequent urination or the inability to control urine flow.

Diagnosing Uterine Fibroids

Doctors use a variety of methods to detect the presence of fibroids. In many cases, a physician may notice irregularities in the shape of the uterus during a routine pelvic exam, which will typically lead to further testing. An ultrasound test can normally confirm the existence of fibroids. If you're experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding, your doctor may also order a complete blood count to determine if the excessive blood loss has led to the development of anemia.

Fibroid Treatment Protocols

Fortunately, fibroid symptoms may be mild enough to prevent the need for any type of treatment. Your doctor can monitor the growth or shrinkage of fibroids during annual pelvic exams. If fibroid growth becomes excessive or if heavy menstrual bleeding occurs, your doctor may prescribe medications that can reduce their size or help to control your menstrual cycles.

What About Fibroid Removal?

In cases of severe fibroid pain or complications, noninvasive or minimally invasive surgical procedures can be used to destroy the fibroids without having to physically remove them. However, if fibroids grow to a very large size or are deeply imbedded within the uterus, it may become necessary to perform more invasive fibroid surgery. Methods can include performing fibroid removal via an open abdominal procedure called an abdominal myomectomy, or a hysterectomy, which is the complete removal of the uterus.

Contact UPMC Pinnacle to learn more about uterine fibroids and possible treatment options.

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