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What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that form inside the uterus during a woman's childbearing years, especially after the age of 30.

Fibroids can range in size from tiny growths you can barely see with the naked eye to much larger, bulkier masses.

While up to 80 percent of women may develop fibroids at some point, most won't even know of their presence.

In most cases, uterine fibroids will shrink and go away without the need for medical treatment. But they may also keep growing, which could cause pain and other unpleasant symptoms.

Are Fibroids Cancerous?

No, fibroids are not cancerous.

And having them doesn't increase your risk of getting cancer.

Who's At Risk for Fibroids?

The main risk factor for uterine fibroids is age. Women in their 30s and 40s through menopause are most at risk for getting them.

Other fibroid risk factors may include:

  • Family history.
  • Race. Black women are more likely to get fibroids.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Obesity.

Women who have a decreased risk of fibroids are those who:

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Take birth control pills.
  • Have already had children.

What Causes Fibroids?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids is unknown.

But doctors believe that the estrogen and progesterone hormones may cause them to form and grow. Genetics may also be a factor.

What Are Fibroid Symptoms?

There are many possible fibroid symptoms, including:

  • Periods lasting seven days or longer.
  • Excessive bleeding during your period.
  • Pain in the pelvis, back, or legs.
  • Frequent urination or trouble emptying the bladder.
  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Constipation.

When Should I See a Doctor About My Fibroid Symptoms?

Fibroids are not life-threatening.

But based on their location in the uterus and their size, they can cause pain and discomfort, which treatment can relieve.

You should think about seeing your doctor for fibroid symptoms if you:

  • Have heavier-than-normal menstrual bleeding or if your periods become progressively more painful over three to six months.
  • Feel heaviness or discomfort in the lower abdomen.
  • Experience frequent urination or problems with controlling urine flow.
  • Having trouble getting pregnant or are currently pregnant.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Uterine Fibroids?

Doctors use a range of methods to detect fibroids.

Often, they may notice irregularities in the shape of the uterus during a routine pelvic exam and will order testing.

An ultrasound test can normally confirm the existence of fibroids.

If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, your doctor may also order a complete blood count. This can tell them if excessive blood loss has led to anemia.

How Do You Treat Fibroids?

Many times, fibroid symptoms may be mild enough that you don't need any type of treatment.

Your doctor can check fibroid growth or shrinkage during yearly pelvic exams.

Your doctor may prescribe medicine to:

  • Reduce fibroid size if growth becomes excessive.
  • Control your menstrual cycles if you have heavy bleeding.

Can You Remove Fibroids?

In cases of severe fibroid pain or complications, noninvasive or minimally invasive surgery can destroy them without having to remove them.

If fibroids grow to a very large size or get deeply embedded in the uterus, you may need more invasive fibroid surgery.

Surgery to remove fibroids include:

  • Open surgery called an abdominal myomectomy.
  • A hysterectomy, which is the complete removal of the uterus.

Fibroids and Pregnancy

Fibroids can grow during the first trimester of pregnancy but then shrink.

Many women with fibroids have few or no problems.

But they could cause complications during pregnancy, such as:

  • Preterm labor and delivery.
  • Pain, especially during the second and third trimesters.
  • Abnormal fetal position at birth, such as breech.
  • Placenta problems.
  • Pregnancy loss.

Fibroids don't necessarily affect fertility. But if they grow inside the uterus and change its shape, it may make it hard to get pregnant.

Surgery may be an option to remove the fibroid.

Contact UPMC in Central Pa. to learn more about uterine fibroids and treatment options.

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