Unfortunately, uterine fibroids aren’t included in standard information given about women’s health, yet up to 80% of women are likely to get them in their lifetime.
Because of this, our team at Health Solutions located in Tinley Park, Rockford, and Olympia Fields, Illinois, and Munster, Indiana, wants to help give you basic information about uterine fibroids, their symptoms, and how they’re treated. In short, here’s your ultimate guide to uterine fibroids.
Understanding uterine fibroids
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop inside the uterus. They're the most common kind of uterine tumor, affecting 70-80% of women by the time they reach age 50.
These growths are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue and can range in size from tiny to quite large. Most of the time, they’re attached to the uterine wall with a thin stem or stalk, which can make them look like mushrooms.
Fibroids can grow in different places inside and outside your uterus, depending on the type of fibroid it is. For example, submucosal fibroids grow inside your uterus and extend down into the middle of your uterus; intramural fibroids embed themselves into the wall of your uterus; subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of your uterus; and pedunculated fibroids are able to grow inside or outside your uterus.
Though fibroids aren't cancerous, they can mimic the symptoms of a rare form of cancer called uterine sarcoma. The only way to tell if it is, in fact, this type of cancer is through a biopsy of the fibroid. So, if you do have fibroids, we'll walk you through the process – step by step – of testing for uterine sarcoma and everything that comes with that.
What causes uterine fibroids?
Although scientists are still unsure what causes fibroids to develop, it’s understood that they’re most common during a woman's reproductive years. However, certain factors can increase your risk for uterine fibroids, including:
Uterine fibroids are most often found in women between the ages of 30-50.
If a close relative like your mother or sister has had fibroids, you’re more likely to develop them.
The hormones estrogen and progesterone stimulate growth of your uterine lining during your menstrual cycles. If your body produces excessive amounts of these hormones, it can also stimulate the growth of fibroids.
African American women are most at risk for developing uterine fibroids.
If you’re overweight or obese, it can increase your risk of developing fibroids.
Getting your period at a young age or starting menopause late are also known risk factors for uterine fibroids.
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Many women never experience symptoms with fibroids. However, for those who do, the symptoms can be quite bothersome and interfere with daily life.
Heavy menstrual flow is the most commonly reported symptom of uterine fibroids. Some other telltale signs include:
- Prolonged menstrual periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Frequent urination
- Back pain
- Painful intercourse
In extremely rare instances, fibroids can cause infertility or miscarriage. Though it’s said that having fibroids can keep you from starting a family, the truth is, it’s still possible to get pregnant and carry your baby to full term even when you have fibroids.
How uterine fibroids are diagnosed
If you're experiencing any of these listed symptoms of uterine fibroids, we can help to diagnose them, which begins with a routine pelvic exam to check for any abnormalities in your uterus. Some of the other tests that we can use to diagnose uterine fibroids include the following:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Before each test, we thoroughly explain each step of the process, so you know exactly what to expect as we walk through the diagnostic process.
What does treatment look like?
In years past, many doctors would suggest skipping treatment altogether and opt for a hysterectomy. Now, many more options are available. Sometimes, if you have small fibroids and aren't experiencing any symptoms, we might simply hold off on treatment and just keep a close eye on your fibroids over time.
The treatment we recommend for you will depend mostly on the severity of your symptoms and the size and location of your fibroids. Treatment plans most often include medication or minimally invasive procedures to remove fibroids.
Severe cases of uterine fibroids may require surgery to remove them.
If you think you may have uterine fibroids, we urge you to request an appointment online or over the phone with us today.