Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. Also called leiomyomas (lie-o-my-O-muhs) or myomas, uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.
Uterine fibroids develop from the smooth muscular tissue of the uterus (myometrium). A single cell divides repeatedly, eventually creating a firm, rubbery mass distinct from nearby tissue. The growth patterns of uterine fibroids vary — they may grow slowly or rapidly, or they may remain the same size. Some fibroids go through growth spurts, and some may shrink on their own. Many fibroids that have been present during pregnancy shrink or disappear after pregnancy, as the uterus goes back to a normal size.
Fibroids range in size from seedlings, undetectable by the human eye, to bulky masses that can distort and enlarge the uterus. They can be single or multiple, in extreme cases expanding the uterus so much that it reaches the rib cage.
Who Gets Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are extremely common. In fact, many women have uterine fibroids at some point in life. Uterine fibroids in most women are usually too small to cause any problems, or even be noticed.
No one knows what causes uterine fibroids, but their growth seems to depend on estrogen, the female hormone. Uterine fibroids don’t develop until after puberty, and usually after age 30. Uterine fibroids tend to shrink or disappear after menopause, when estrogen levels fall.
Black women tend to get uterine fibroids two to three times as often as white women, and also tend to have more symptoms from uterine fibroids.
As many as 3 out of 4 women have uterine fibroids sometime during their lives, but most are unaware of them because they often cause no symptoms. Your doctor may discover fibroids incidentally during a pelvic exam or prenatal ultrasound.
Other factors may influence development of uterine fibroids:
*Pregnancy: Women who have had children are less likely to get fibroids.
*Early menstruation: Women whose first period was before age 10 are more likely to have uterine fibroids.
*Women taking birth control pills are less likely to develop significant uterine fibroids.
*Family history: Women whose mothers and sisters have uterine fibroids are more likely to have them.
In women who have symptoms, the most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
*Heavy menstrual bleeding
*Prolonged menstrual periods — seven days or more of menstrual bleeding
*Pelvic pressure or pain
*Difficulty emptying your bladder
*Backache or leg pains
Rarely, a fibroid can cause acute pain when it outgrows its blood supply. Deprived of nutrients, the fibroid begins to die. Byproducts from a degenerating fibroid can seep into surrounding tissue, causing pain and, rarely, fever. A fibroid that hangs by a stalk inside or outside the uterus (pedunculated fibroid) can trigger pain by twisting on its stalk and cutting off its blood supply.
Fibroid location, size and number influence signs and symptoms:
»Submucosal fibroids. Fibroids that grow into the inner cavity of the uterus (submucosal fibroids) are more likely to cause prolonged, heavy menstrual bleeding and are sometimes a problem for women attempting pregnancy.
»Subserosal fibroids. Fibroids that project to the outside of the uterus (subserosal fibroids) can sometimes press on your bladder, causing you to experience urinary symptoms. If fibroids bulge from the back of your uterus, they occasionally can press either on your rectum, causing a pressure sensation, or on your spinal nerves, causing backache.
»Intramural fibroids. Some fibroids grow within the muscular uterine wall (intramural fibroids). If large enough, they can distort the shape of the uterus and cause prolonged, heavy periods, as well as pain and pressure.
»Pedunculated fibroids usually grow outside of the uterus, attached to the uterus by a base or stalk.
When To See a Doctor
See your doctor if you have:
*Pelvic pain that doesn’t go away
*Overly heavy or painful periods
*Spotting or bleeding between periods
*Pain consistently with intercourse
*Enlarged uterus and abdomen
*Difficulty emptying your bladder
Seek prompt medical care if you have severe vaginal bleeding or sharp pelvic pain that comes on suddenly.
* DIAGNOSIS *
Moderate and large-sized uterine fibroids are often felt by a doctor during a manual pelvic examination. Imaging tests are often done to confirm the presence of uterine fibroids.
An ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina or over the pelvis on the abdomen, and high-frequency sound waves reflect off the uterus and pelvic structures. The uterus and any uterine fibroids are displayed on a video screen.
»Magnetic resonance imaging (pelvic MRI)
An MRI scanner uses a high-powered magnet and a computer to create highly detailed images of the uterus and other pelvic structures. Pelvic MRI can confirm the presence of uterine fibroids, if the diagnosis is unclear.
Occasionally, a doctor may be concerned that a mass in the uterus is cancer, not a uterine fibroid. A small piece of tissue (biopsy) taken from the uterus can usually tell a fibroid from cancer. A uterine biopsy may be done through the vagina, or may require surgery.
Dye is injected into the uterus through the vagina and cervix, and X-ray films show an outline of the uterus and fallopian tubes. Hysterosalpingogram is usually done in women with uterine fibroids who are trying to become pregnant.
A water solution is injected into the uterus through the vagina and cervix, and an ultrasound is then done. Sonohysterogram may show uterine fibroids or other growths not visible on a traditional ultrasound.
A tube with a lighted viewer on its tip (endoscope) is advanced into the uterus, and a video screen shows the uterus interior. Hysteroscopy can detect uterine fibroids projecting into the uterus, but cannot see any part of a fibroid in the uterus wall or outside the uterus.
»Treatment of Uterine Fibroids«
Most uterine fibroids don’t need any treatment, because they don’t cause symptoms or problems. Uterine fibroids causing problems may be treated with non-surgical or surgical options.
Credits: Mayo Clinic and WebMD