Who’s At Risk for Uterine Fibroids? Can They Hurt?

It’s a common condition for women. More than 70 percent of women will develop fibroids by age 50.

What Are Fibroids?

They’re sometimes known as uterine fibroids, uterine myomas, leiomyomas or fibromas. They’re the most common type of tumor found in the female reproductive system.

Not all are diagnosed because only about a third of fibroids are big enough to be found during a physical exam.

Fibroids are firm, compact tumors made of muscle cells and other tissues. They grow in or around the wall of the uterus — the womb. They can be as small as a pea or as big as a softball.

In more than 99 percent of cases, fibroid tumors are benign (non-cancerous). They don’t increase your risk for uterine cancer.

The cause of fibroids is unknown. The estrogen in the uterus may spur a tumor to grow from abnormal muscle cells.

Fibroids are most common in women age 30 to 40. Women who are African American or overweight are at higher risk for fibroids.

What Are the Signs of Fibroids?

Many women have fibroids but have no symptoms. Others have bothersome or painful symptoms. If you have fibroids, indications may include:

  • Heavy, prolonged or painful periods or bleeding between periods. Excessive bleeding may lead to iron-deficiency anemia. This requires treatment.
  • Feeling full in your lower abdomen.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Lower back or pelvic pain.
  • Reproductive problems, such as infertility, multiple miscarriages or early labor.

How Are Fibroids Diagnosed?

The primary way to diagnose a fibroid is through a health care provider’s routine pelvic exam. The provider may feel a firm, irregular pelvic mass. Your provider may also use imaging tests such as X-ray, ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to check for fibroids.

  • X-ray
  • Transvaginal ultrasound (also called ultrasonography)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Hysteroscopy — A visual exam of the cervix and the uterus using a viewing instrument.
  • Endometrial biopsy — A tube is inserted into the uterus to take a tissue sample.

How Are Fibroids Treated?

When women have fibroids, they typically stop growing or may even shrink as menopause approaches. Treatment may not be necessary.

If you have fibroids, your health care provider may suggest “watchful waiting.” That’s when your provider periodically checks the fibroid(s) to keep track of growth and/or the appearance of new fibroids. The checks can be done during your regular health checkups.

However, if fibroids grow to a significant size or cause more serious symptoms, medical treatment may be necessary. Your health care provider will recommend a treatment based on:

  • Your health and medical history.
  • The size of your fibroids.
  • Your plans for future pregnancy.
  • How you may respond to treatments.
  • Your treatment preference.

Treatments may include medical, surgical or radiological options. Here are some of your treatment options:

Medical Treatments

  • Pain medication — Over the counter or prescription.
  • Birth control pills or other types of hormonal birth control.
  • Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD).
  • Antihormonal agents — These drugs can slow or stop the growth of fibroids.

Medical treatments may provide only temporary relief. Once you stop treatment, fibroids may return.

Surgical Treatments

  • Endometrial ablation — The lining of the uterus is destroyed using a heated balloon or a tool that emits controlled microwave energy. Pregnancy is unlikely after ablation.
  • Myomectomy — Fibroids are surgically removed using one of a few procedure options. The healthy areas of the uterus remain intact. This procedure will not affect fertility.
  • Hysterectomy — All or part of the uterus is removed. This is the sure way to cure uterine fibroids. Pregnancy is not possible after a hysterectomy.

Radiological Treatments

  • Uterine artery embolization (UAE) — Tiny particles are surgically inserted into the blood vessels feeding the area around the fibroids. The particles block the blood flow to the fibroids, causing them to shrink.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided ultrasound — High intensity ultrasound waves are used to destroy the fibroids. The ultrasound waves are administered from a source outside of the body. The waves pass through the skin, hit the fibroid and reduce its size.

Additional treatments are also available if those above aren’t appropriate.

If you notice fibroid symptoms, see your health care provider.

If you develop fibroids, you may want to see a specialist. Your provider can suggest a provider who’s qualified to treat fibroids.

A specialized fibroid clinic is now open at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. If you’re in the area, ask your provider about visiting Aurora Sinai’s new fibroid unit or another fibroid treatment center in your area. Aurora is a not-for-profit health care organization.

If you find this blog helpful, visit the Aurora Health Care Facebook page for more useful information!

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Dickson Michelson, MD, is a Gynecologic Oncologist at Aurora West Allis Medical Center.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

Never Miss a Post

Get our weekly digest of health & wellness tips

  • Never Miss a Post

  • Get our weekly digest of health & wellness tips

Success! Look for an email from us soon.

Recent Posts

Cervical Cancer: A Preventable Health Risk

How Can Being a Mom Improve Health?

See the Promising Trends in Breast Cancer Survival

Find a Doctor Find a Location myAurora