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Uterine Fibroids (Leiomyomas)

Woman with uterine fibroids researches treatment options

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids, also called leiomyomas (lie-o-my-O-muhs) or myomas, are growths inside the muscle of the uterus. They are not associated with cancer, and they often occur in women of childbearing age. The most common types of uterine fibroids are:

  • Intramural fibroids: Developing in the uterine wall.
  • Submucosal fibroids: Protruding into the uterine cavity.
  • Subserosal fibroids: Bulging outside of the uterus and into the abdominal cavity.

How big are uterine fibroids?

Fibroids range in size from very small – so small they can’t be seen without magnification – to so large that they distort and increase the size of the uterus. Women can have one fibroid or multiple fibroids. Fibroids can sometimes grow big enough that they put pressure on other structures in the pelvis and abdomen. These can include the bladder, ureters, bowel and blood vessels. Women with large fibroids can feel as though they are several months pregnant, while smaller fibroids may not cause any significant symptoms.

What causes uterine fibroids?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids is not known. Some experts believe they begin in a stem cell (undifferentiated cell) of the smooth muscles of the uterus. As this cell divides, it creates a mass that is different from the nearby tissue. This mass becomes a uterine fibroid.

Other factors may also play a role in the development of fibroids:

How are uterine fibroids detected?

Some may never be detected, but larger fibroids or those that cause symptoms are often felt during a pelvic exam or seen on an imaging test, like an ultrasound.

Common Uterine Fibroids Symptoms

Many women have fibroids. Most fibroids do not cause symptoms, so they often go undetected. Women who do experience symptoms may notice:

  • Heavy bleeding during menstruation.
  • Longer than normal menstrual cycles (more than a week).
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Pelvic pressure.
  • Urinary problems, like frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder all the way.
  • Constipation.
  • Back or leg pain.

Women who bleed excessively from fibroids may become anemic due to blood loss.

Risk Factors

There are not many known risks for developing uterine fibroids. Any woman of reproductive age may develop them. A few factors that may increase your risk include:

  • Family history and heredity: If your mother or a sister has or had fibroids, your risk may be greater.
  • Race: African American women are at higher risk for developing uterine fibroids, and if they do develop them, they’re more likely to have larger fibroids or multiple fibroids.

Other factors that may have an impact on developing fibroids:

  • Early onset of menstruation.
  • Hormonal birth control use.
  • Obesity.
  • Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • A diet high in red meat and low in fruit, green vegetables, and dairy.

Is there a way to avoid uterine fibroids?

There is no known way to avoid developing uterine fibroids Maintaining a healthy weight and making certain lifestyle choices (like eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits and low in red meat) may decrease your risk.

Who treats uterine fibroids?

Many women who have uterine fibroids do not need treatment. If you have fibroids, and they are causing concerning symptoms, you should talk with a physician. Treatment options for uterine fibroids can be discussed with your OB/GYN or an interventional radiologist.

Uterine Fibroids Treatment