What Is It?
A fibroid is a lump or growth in the uterus that is not cancerous. Fibroids can be as small as a pea to as large as a basketball. They are usually round and pinkish in color, and they can grow anywhere inside or on the uterus.
About 30% of women older than 30 years have fibroids, and they usually appear between the ages of 35 and 45. Some women are more likely to get fibroids, including black women, women who have never been pregnant and women who have a mother or sister with fibroids.
The cause of fibroids is unknown. However, the female hormone estrogen seems to play a role in stimulating the growth of some fibroids.
Some women never realize that they have fibroids because they have no symptoms. In other women, uterine fibroids are discovered either during a routine gynecologic exam or during prenatal care.
When symptoms of fibroids occur, they can include:
Usually, a woman doesn't realize that she has a fibroid until her gynecologist feels it during a pelvic exam. If your gynecologist thinks you have a fibroid, several tests can confirm the diagnosis:
The number of fibroids, their size and how fast they grow varies among women. Female hormones encourage fibroids to grow, so they continue growing until menopause. Some fibroids shrink after menopause. However, larger fibroids may change little or become only slightly smaller in size. If a woman has had fibroids removed surgically, new fibroids can appear any time before she enters menopause.
There are no proven measures you can take to prevent fibroids from developing. Studies show that athletic women seem to be less likely to develop fibroids than women who are obese or who don't exercise.
If fibroids are small and are not causing any symptoms, they do not need to be treated. Your gynecologist may do a pelvic examination every six months to a year to make sure that your fibroids are not growing rapidly. In some cases, medications can be prescribed to control any abnormal bleeding and temporarily shrink the fibroids.
Medications used to shrink fibroids, such as leuprolide (Lupron), create a temporary menopause by stopping the ovaries from making the female hormone estrogen. While estrogen levels drop and menstrual periods stop, menopausal hot flashes appear and fibroids stop growing and slowly shrink. This helps to stop blood loss from heavy, prolonged periods. However, when the medication is stopped periods return, hot flashes disappear and fibroids that have not been removed will start growing again. These medications usually are given by needle injection in a large muscle.
Fibroids may need to be removed if they cause significant symptoms or are large enough to interfere with fertility. Growths in your uterus also may need to be removed if it is difficult for your doctor to tell whether they are fibroids or cancer. There are several options for removing fibroids:
When To Call a Professional
You should call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
Call your doctor immediately if you experience severe pelvic pain, or if you develop severe bleeding from your vagina.
Fibroids often shrink after menopause because they need female hormones to grow. Many women have small- to moderate-size fibroids throughout their childbearing years that cause them few or no problems. Several medical and surgical options are available to treat or remove troublesome fibroids without having to remove the uterus.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
P.O. Box 96920
Washington, DC 20090-6920