Uterine fibroids are surprisingly common. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, by age 50, between 70 percent and 80 percent of all women have at least one fibroid, but usually, they cause no discernible symptoms and require no treatment. In other cases though, uterine fibroids can cause significant symptoms, especially when they’re very large and when they form in women of childbearing age. Here’s what you should know about uterine fibroids — and five symptoms you should be aware of so you can get the treatment you need as early as possible.
What are uterine fibroids?
Fibroids are abnormal growths of tissue that form inside your uterus. Fibroids are often described as tumors, and although that may sound scary, most fibroids are benign or non-cancerous. Fibroids can range in size from very small — smaller than a single pea — to as large as a cantaloupe. Obviously, the larger the fibroid, the more likely it will cause noticeable symptoms.
Any woman can develop uterine fibroids, but there are some factors that make the growths more likely, including:
- long-term use of certain types of contraceptives, including birth control pills
- older age
- family history of fibroids
- high blood pressure
Women who’ve never been pregnant are also at a higher risk of developing fibroids, as are African American women.
Fibroid growth rates can fluctuate widely. Most experts agree the growth is dependent on the “female” hormones estrogen and progesterone. Fibroids tend to grow much more rapidly during a woman’s childbearing years, with growth slowing down or stopping once a woman reaches menopause. For some women, fibroids may actually shrink once they’re in menopause. The hormones released during pregnancy can also cause fibroids to grow more rapidly. When fibroids grow during pregnancy, they may cause complications, including premature birth.
Five fibroid symptoms to watch for
Small fibroids often cause no symptoms, and you may not even realize they're there until they're "discovered" during a regular pelvic exam. When a fibroid is large or when you have multiple fibroids, you're more likely to experience symptoms, and you may require treatment to shrink or remove the fibroids. Here are five symptoms you may experience with uterine fibroids:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding is one of the most common symptoms associated with uterine fibroids. Women who have fibroids may have periods that are so heavy they need to change pads very frequently, even during the night, and they may be anemic. Periods can also be more painful as the fibroids interfere with normal uterine contractions that occur during menstruation.
- A feeling of fullness in the pelvic region is another relatively common symptom for women who have very large fibroids or women who have multiple fibroids.
- You may need to urinate more frequently, especially if your fibroid is large or is positioned in such a way that it exerts pressure on your bladder.
- You might have pain during sexual intercourse, again depending on the size and position of the fibroid.
- Lower back pain is another possible symptom, caused by pressure from a large fibroid.
Less commonly, fibroids may interfere with your ability to get pregnant. As noted earlier, fibroids can increase your risk for complications during pregnancy, and they can significantly increase the likelihood you'll need to have a Cesarean section.
Women who have fibroids typically don't experience all these symptoms, and sometimes symptoms can be very mild. Because the symptoms associated with uterine fibroids can also occur with other serious conditions including uterine cancer, if you have any symptoms it's important to schedule an office visit with Dr. Weyhrich so you can be evaluated right away.
Find out more about fibroid treatments.
Uterine fibroids aren't uncommon, and they don't always need to be treated. The first step in determining if you need treatment is to schedule an office visit. As a top ob-gyn in Boise, Idaho, Dr. Darin L. Weyhrich offers women the most advanced fibroid treatment options based on their needs so his patients can enjoy optimal health at every age. To find out more about fibroid treatments and to schedule an appointment with Dr. Weyhrich, contact the practice today.