Uterine fibroids are a common occurrence in women. Many show no symptoms and are unaware they have them until routine pelvic exams or imaging for other reasons make them known. When symptoms are present, they can be challenging to deal with. Knowing more about the symptoms, risks, and treatments available can help you prepare for your doctor’s appointment and determine the next steps needed.
What are They?
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths that build from the muscle tissues of the uterus. They can be located inside the uterus, within its outer surface wall, or attached to it by a stem-like structure. The size, number, and location of the growths vary. A woman may have one fibroid or many difference sized ones. Symptoms include:
- Heavy bleeding or pain during menstrual cycles
- Enlarged lower abdomen
- Pain during sex
- Frequent urination
- Lower back pain
- Fertility issues in rare occurrences
Risks and Diagnosis
20- 80% of women develop fibroids before the age of 50, occurring most often between the 30s-40s. African American women are at an increased risk, along with those who have a family history, are obese, and eat a lot of red meat.
Early signs of fibroids can be found during a pelvic exam, but number and size are detected through various imaging tests such as:
- Ultrasound– Sound waves create a picture of the uterus.
- Hysteroscopy – A slender device inserted through the vagina and cervix (opening of the uterus) to see the inside of the uterine cavity.
- Hysterosalpingography – A special x-ray that detects abnormal changes to the uterus and fallopian tubes.
- Sonohysterography – This test puts fluid into the uterus, and then an ultrasound is done. The liquid allows for a clear picture of the uterus.
- Laparoscopy – A small cut is made below the belly button, and a slender device is inserted into the pelvic cavity to view fibroids outside of the uterus.
Treatment is not always necessary, especially if no symptoms are present, or the fibroids aren’t impacting your life negatively. Talking with your gynecologist can help you decide what is best for you. Medications such as birth control and other hormone therapies can help control symptoms and may even shrink fibroids. Larger fibroids can be removed surgically while keeping the uterus intact, but the fibroids can always regrow. In extreme cases, a hysterectomy may be needed and is currently the only cure for fibroids.
Treating fibroids is not always straightforward. Some women may be unable to take hormones; others may desire to have children still, so they aren’t a candidate for some of the surgical methods. More work is needed to find effective treatments for all women through clinical research studies. If you have uterine fibroids and are interested in our enrolling studies looking into potential new treatment options, call us at (858) 505-8672, or click here.