Finding out you have fibroids can be unsettling.
Any type of diagnosis that reveals a growth raises a lot of concerns and questions. What are the symptoms of fibroids? What does it mean if you have fibroids and want to get pregnant? How are fibroids treated?
Let’s look at this common condition, understanding the symptoms, and how to treat fibroids.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are growths in your uterus that are made of the muscle and connective tissue of the uterus wall. Fibroids can vary in size, number and location within and on your uterus, and can develop within the wall of the uterus, inside the main cavity of the uterus or even on the outer surface.1
Fibroids are also called leiomyomas or myomas. Uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.2
Fibroids also range in size. Some women have small fibroids, tiny enough that they can’t be detected. Some have more than one fibroid growth. Sometimes fibroids are large enough that they distort and enlarge the uterus. Occasionally a large fibroid or several of them can expand the uterus so much that it reaches the rib cage and can add weight.2 Fibroids sometimes grow in clusters, too, which can also range in size.1
Uterine fibroids are the most common pelvic tumors among women of reproductive age. Some reports number them as affecting more than 70% of women worldwide.3 There are also other conditions of the reproductive system that have similar symptoms and are easily mistaken for fibroids: polyps, cysts and endometriosis, for instance.
While many women have uterine fibroids sometime during their lives, you might not know you have uterine fibroids. A doctor may discover fibroids incidentally during a pelvic exam or prenatal ultrasound.2
What Are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?
Some women have fibroids and don’t realize it, because there aren’t always symptoms associated with the condition.
Here are some of the common symptoms of fibroids:
- heavy menstrual bleeding1
- periods lasting more than a week2
- back pain1
- leg pains2
- frequent urination1
- difficulty emptying the bladder2
- pain during sex1
- pelvic pressure or pain2
In rare cases, a fibroid outgrows its blood supply, and begins to die, which in turn can cause acute pain.2
As mentioned, uterine fibroids typically aren’t dangerous as they rarely become cancerous. But they can cause discomfort if they grow large. They may also lead to side effects, such as when heavy blood loss leads to fatigue and anemia. Also, fibroids don’t typically interfere with your ability to become pregnant.2
How to Treat Fibroids
If your doctor has diagnosed fibroids, your treatment plan will vary depending on the size, number and location of the fibroids. The symptoms you’ve been having, and your desire to get pregnant can also impact treatment.1
In some instances, there is no need for treatment, such as when fibroids are small or aren’t causing any side effects.1 In other instances, side effects such as heavy bleeding or pain, or sometimes problems getting pregnant, will determine a treatment path.
Here are a few examples of treatments for fibroids.
Medication for Fibroids
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may suggest pain medication, iron supplements for anemia, or birth control, which can help with heavy bleeding and cramps.1
Another type of medication known as “Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists” is sometimes used. These block the production of estrogen and progesterone, putting you into a temporary menopause-like state. This makes your periods stop, which improves anemia and causes fibroids to shrink.4
Surgery for Fibroids
Occasionally surgery is suggested, and there are different options available for this form of treatment too. A non-invasive option is MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery. Sound waves create heat and destroy small areas of fibroid tissue. Other procedures destroy fibroids without actually removing them through surgery.4
Other types of surgery are also available, but a deciding factor for some of these procedures is whether or not you are planning future pregnancies.1 If that’s the case, there are several kinds of surgery known as myomectomy, which can remove the fibroids without damaging the uterus.1
To gain a full understanding of how to treat fibroids, it’s best to see your doctor and review your symptoms, diagnosis and treatment plan.
You should seek medical advice if your symptoms are worrisome. For instance, if you have pelvic pain that doesn’t go away, heavy, prolonged or painful periods, or spotting or bleeding between periods, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. In particular, see a physician immediately if you have severe vaginal bleeding or sharp pelvic pain that comes on suddenly.2
Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. Then you can be sure your fibroids receive proper treatment.