Uterine fibroids can be very uncomfortable and are surprisingly common, affecting anywhere from 20 to 80% of women, mostly in their 40s and 50s.1 It’s important to be familiar with the symptoms and the treatment options, in order to make wise choices about your reproductive health and improve your quality of life.
What is a Uterine Fibroid? Am I At Risk?
Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas or myomas, are tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus, ranging from multiple small masses to singular larger masses that are typically benign (non-cancerous). They are comprised of muscle tissue and can grow into the uterine space on the inside or outside wall of the uterus.
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing uterine fibroids.1
- Age – Uterine fibroids develop as a woman ages and are most common during her 30s and 40s, and through menopause. Typically, the fibroids decrease in size during and after menopause.1
- Family history – If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with fibroids, you are at an increased risk. If your mother experienced fibroids, you are three times more likely to develop them. 1
- Ethnic origin – Some ethnicities are more susceptible to developing fibroids. By menopause, 80% of African-American women have uterine fibroids. In fact, African-American women tend to develop fibroids at a younger age and more frequently.2
- Obesity – Carrying extra weight can put you at higher risk for uterine fibroids. If you are extremely overweight, the risk rises to two to three times. 1
- Eating habits – A diet high in red meats is linked to an increased chance of fibroids, however, a diet rich in green vegetables can actually reduce the risk of developing uterine fibroids.1
How Do I Know if I have Uterine Fibroids?
The range of symptoms with fibroids can vary. Some women might not experience any symptoms, or only experience them in very mild forms. Others feel the effects quite severely, and experience debilitating pain and discomfort during their monthly cycles. The symptoms can include any combination of the following:1
- Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding), which in some cases can be heavy enough to cause anemia.
- Painful periods.
- A sensation of bloating or fullness in your pelvic region.
- Actual enlargement or bloating of your lower abdomen.
- Increased frequency of urination.
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
- Lower back pain.
- Complications during pregnancy and labor, including a six-time greater risk of Cesarean section.
- And more rarely, reproductive problems, such as infertility.
What Should I Do If I think I Have Fibroids?
It’s important, especially if you identify any of the listed risk factors, to have yearly gynecological exams with a trusted physician. If you keep up with regular visits, update health histories, and routine pelvic exams, your doctor should be able to help you identify steps that you can take to minimize your risk. If you suspect that uterine fibroids are present, your doctor should also be able to feel if there are any masses and determine their size and location.
About a third of women who have uterine fibroids request treatment for the symptoms they are experiencing. You can talk with your physician about the options available to you. Treatment options are typically dictated by your age and your desire to preserve your future fertility.
Your physician will likely offer both surgical and non-surgical treatment options, and help you become familiar with the various procedures, like myomectomy by hysteroscopy, myomectomy by laparotomy or laparoscopy, or uterine artery embolization. Other interventions, such as thermal ablation, are also becoming more common.3
If you think you have uterine fibroids, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist as soon as possible to discuss your treatment options.
- gov. “Uterine Fibroids.” Updated February 6, 2017. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids.
- Creating a Family. “Infertility Issues in the African American Community.” Updated February 22, 2012. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: https://creatingafamily.org/infertility-category/infertility-issues-in-the-african-american-community/.
- Jacques Donnez, Marie-Madeleine Dolmans; Uterine fibroid management: from the present to the future.Hum Reprod Update 2016; 22 (6): 665-686. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmw023. Published October 20, 2016. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article-abstract/22/6/665/2420585/Uterine-fibroid-management-from-the-present-to-the.