What is a fibroid?
A fibroid is a growth made up of fibrous and muscular tissue; it is normal tissue that has grown too much. Fibroids can grow inside, outside, or within the wall the uterus, often in response to estrogen hormone. They are almost always NOT cancerous. While they are not life-threatening, fibroids can cause pain, excessive bleeding, and even infertility. A woman who has one fibroid may develop other fibroids.
A fibroid may also be called a myoma, fibromyoma, myofibroma, or leiomyoma.
Are fibroids a common problem?
A fibroid is the most common type of pelvic growth found in women. Approximately 25 percent of women in their reproductive years will be diagnosed as having fibroids, but as many as 75 percent of women may have them and not know it because they experience few, if any, symptoms.
What causes a fibroid?
Fibroids grow in response to the estrogen hormone and women seldom develop fibroids after reaching menopause. There are no known risk factors, but it appears that African American women are more likely to develop fibroids.
What are the symptoms of fibroids?
Most women who have fibroids do not experience symptoms. Fibroids are sometimes detected during a pelvic examination, when the doctor notes that the uterus is enlarged or irregular in shape. Pressure in the pelvic area, long and/or heavy menstrual periods, backaches, constipation, frequent urination, and uterine enlargement can all be symptoms of fibroids. These symptoms may have other causes, so your doctor may order tests, such as ultrasound, to rule out other problems.
Can fibroids be prevented?
No, but they can be treated.
Do fibroids always require treatment?
No. A small fibroid that isn’t growing quickly and doesn’t cause problems generally does not require treatment. Studies indicate that fibroids causing only minor symptoms do not require intervention if the growth of these tumors is monitored and other organs are not affected.
Estrogen is known to stimulate the growth of fibroids, and it is not unusual for them to shrink in size as a woman’s estrogen level declines during perimenopause, or to disappear after menopause.
Is hysterectomy the only way to treat fibroids?
No. While fibroids are the most common cause of hysterectomy, a woman and her doctor have a number of treatment options. A number of factors must be considered when deciding what, if any, treatment is best for you.
Hysterectomy is only one option. If a fibroid IS causing symptoms, your doctor may recommend myomectomy, a surgical procedure to remove only the fibroid, or uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) to cut off the fibroid’s blood supply.
Your doctor may recommend a non-surgical option, such as a medication that controls the body’s production of estrogen and simulates menopause; without estrogen to stimulate their growth, fibroids generally shrink. Some research indicates that birth control pills may help to reduce bleeding or discomfort.
The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health, by Karen J. Carlson, M.D., Stephanie A. Eisenstat, M.D., and Terra Ziporyn, Ph.D. Harvard University Press (2004).
A Woman’s Guide to Menopause & Perimenopause, by Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., and Carol V. Wright, Ph.D. Yale University Press (2005).