Millions of women will experience uterine fibroids. They are more common in African-American women than Caucasian women, and they tend to occur most often in women over the age of 20.
So what’s the story behind this common condition? Uterine fibroids are tumors that grow in the uterus. They can cause several symptoms including irregular bleeding or spotting between periods. They can also cause pelvic pain or feelings of bloat, as well as cramping or heavy menstrual cycles.
Some women might also find blood clots in their menstrual blood. (Although it is not abnormal to occasionally see blood clots, if you see more clots than usual or if you are seeing them for the first time, you might have uterine fibroids.) While the above symptoms occur with uterine fibroids, the truth is that it is actually not uncommon to be symptom-free and still have them. As a result, some women have uterine fibroids without even knowing it. The only way to confirm uterine fibroids is to go to your doctor, who will examine you and may order imaging tests: An ultrasound or a pelvic MRI might be needed to verify the existence of uterine fibroids, as a simple pelvic exam might not be enough to see the fibroids (this is especially true if the fibroids are very small or if the woman is overweight).
While we still are not exactly sure what causes uterine fibroids, doctors believe that it is related to the production of estrogen. Fibroids need estrogen to grow, and this is why they grow largest and fastest at times when estrogen levels are high (such as during pregnancy) and why they begin to disappear at times when estrogen levels are low (such as during menopause).
While uterine fibroids are very rarely cancerous, they are also the leading cause for hysterectomies. This is because fibroids can be painful or cause heavy bleeding, which may lead to anemia. Fibroids can also complicate a pregnancy because they might cause premature labor or block the birth canal during labor.
Hysterectomies are the most extreme treatment for fibroids, but in many cases, women do not need to take that route. Medications such as birth control pills can help to regulate hormones and decrease the growth of fibroids, and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have also been used to help treat this condition. Other women need only to monitor their fibroids with their doctor; they find that they can treat the pain of the condition with ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain medication.
There are also surgeries other than a hysterectomy that can be performed. If the fibroids grow outside the uterine cavity, women might be able to opt for an outpatient procedure to remove them. A procedure known as uterine artery embolization can be performed to stop blood flow to the fibroids. A myomectomy, which is the surgical removal of fibroids inside the uterine cavity, is also a common treatment to remove fibroids and is considered less invasive than a hysterectomy and can preserve a woman’s fertility. Talk to your doctor to learn more.