If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, you aren’t alone. Many women of reproductive age have fibroids.
But what exactly are uterine fibroids, and how do they impact a woman’s health? Don Wilson, MD, gynecologist with West Tennessee Medical Group GYN Specialists, answers a few common questions below.
Q: How Common Are Uterine Fibroids?
A: Very common, actually. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 80 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids by age 50. Fibroids become more common as women get older, typically occurring in a woman’s 30s and 40s.
The risk of developing uterine fibroids is higher in certain women. Black or African American women, for example, are more likely to develop fibroids. Women who have a family history of uterine fibroids are also at a higher risk, as are those who are overweight or who have poor eating habits.
Family history is particularly important when determining risk. If your mother had uterine fibroids, your risk of developing them is approximately three times higher than average.
Q: What Are Uterine Fibroids?
A: Uterine fibroids are growths in or on the wall of the uterus. These typically benign growths are the most common type of growth found in the female pelvis. Uterine fibroids are very rarely cancerous, with malignant fibroids occurring in only one out of every 1,000 cases.
There are several different kinds of fibroids—submucosal, intramural, and subserosal. These types vary by where they’re located. Submucosal fibroids grow underneath the uterine lining and in the endometrial cavity. Intramural fibroids grow between the muscles of the uterus. Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus.
In addition to differing in location, uterine fibroids also vary in size and shape. Sometimes they’re attached to the uterus with a stem-like structure, and sometimes they’re pea-sized growths on the surface.
Once a fibroid develops, it may stay the same for a long period of time, or it may grow or shrink.
Q: What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
A: That’s a tricky question. Researchers aren’t entirely sure. It’s believed that uterine fibroid growth could be both hormonal and genetic in nature.
While the exact cause is uncertain, there is a definitive link to estrogen and progesterone levels. Uterine fibroids typically grow quickly during pregnancy, when both estrogen and progesterone levels increase. On the other hand, fibroids tend to shrink or at least stop growing when women enter menopause, causing a dip in hormone levels.
Q: Do Uterine Fibroids Always Require Treatment?
A: The short answer is no. In many cases, women who have uterine fibroids are unaware they even have them. Many fibroids do not cause noticeable symptoms.
If you experience symptoms, treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the types of symptoms you experience and their severity. Uterine fibroids may cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Anemia due to blood loss
- Bleeding between periods
- Frequent urination
- Fullness or pressure in the lower abdomen
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Painful intercourse
- Pelvic cramping or pain
- Periods that last longer than normal
If you are diagnosed with uterine fibroids, a gynecologist or other women’s health specialist can help determine the best treatment for your specific needs. Small fibroids or those that cause minimal symptoms may not require treatment. But uterine fibroids that cause disruptive symptoms or complications, such as infertility, may require treatment.
Q: What Are the Different Treatment Options for Uterine Fibroids?
A: Treatment will vary depending on a number of factors, such as your age, your overall health, the type of fibroid you have, and whether you want children in the future.
If you have uterine fibroids and are experiencing symptoms, talk with your medical provider about the best options for your specific needs. Having an open and honest conversation with your provider can help you achieve your desired goals.
Dealing with uterine fibroids or another women’s health condition? Schedule an appointment with an expert provider at West Tennessee Medical Group GYN Specialists.