What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) growths that develop out of muscle tissue within the uterus. They can range in size from microscopic to large enough to actually distort the uterus. The good news is that these uterine growths — also called leiomyomas or myomas — do not increase your risk of developing uterine cancer.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
The exact cause of uterine fibroids is not known, but certain things affect your risk of developing them, as well as how much they grow. These risk factors include:
- Race: African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than other ethnicities.
- Being overweight: Excess weight can make you more susceptible to developing fibroids.
- Heredity: Having a mother or sister who had uterine fibroids increases your risk of developing them.
- Hormonal changes: Progesterone and estrogen feed fibroid growth, so most women see their fibroids shrink after menopause.
What Are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?
Some women have no symptoms from uterine fibroids. But for others, symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. They can include:
- Periods that are extremely heavy, last longer or are more frequent than normal
- Abdominal cramps (both during your period and at other times)
- Pain during sex
- Frequent urination
- A full feeling in the abdomen
- Difficulty getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy
How Are Uterine Fibroids Diagnosed?
If you suspect you may have fibroids, a Baptist Health physician will perform one or more of the following imaging tests to make an accurate diagnosis:
- Ultrasound: This imaging test allows your doctor to check the uterus for the presence of any growths.
- Hysterosonography: Saline is infused into the uterus to expand it and provide better images during an ultrasound.
- Hysterosalpingography: Dye is injected into the uterus and fallopian tubes and then the area is X-rayed. The dye will help identify any blockages or growths.
- Hysteroscopy: A doctor inserts a small telescope through the cervix and into the uterus to examine the tissue and look for fibroids.
How Are Uterine Fibroids Treated?
If you experience only mild symptoms (or none at all), you may not need to treat your fibroids. But if your symptoms are interfering with your quality of life or your fertility, the caring professionals at Baptist Health may recommend any of the following treatments:
- Hormonal medication: Drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists suppress the production of estrogen and progesterone. While taking them, you will stop getting your period and the fibroids may shrink. Oral contraceptives can also be used to help manage your periods, but won’t help shrink the fibroids.
- Myomectomy: This surgery to remove fibroids can be done laparoscopically, using small, minimally invasive incisions in your abdomen.
- Uterine artery embolization: Tiny particles are injected into the arteries that lead into the uterus. Once there, they cut off blood flow to the fibroids and cause them to shrink.
- MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (FUS): This newer technique is done while you are inside an MRI scanner. The doctor uses the MRI to help pinpoint the location of the fibroids and then sound waves are directed at the fibroid to heat and destroy the tissue.
- Hysterectomy: If you do not want to preserve your ability to have children, removal of the uterus is an option. Normally this is done only if other treatments have not worked
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