Fibroids, or uterine fibroids, are growths or tumors in or around the uterus (usually in the wall of the uterus) that are rarely cancerous. They are made up of muscle and fibrous (contains fibers) tissue. The reason they develop is unknown, but their growth seems to depend on estrogen, the female hormone. Uterine fibroids don’t develop until after puberty, and they usually develop after age 30. Fibroids tend to shrink or disappear after menopause, when estrogen levels fall.

Moderate and large-sized uterine fibroids are often felt by a doctor during a manual pelvic examination. Imaging tests (studies of the inside of various parts of the body) are often done to confirm the presence of fibroids.

Factors Other Than Estrogen Hormone That May Influence the Development of Fibroids:

  • Pregnancy: Women who have had children are less likely to get fibroids.
  • Early menstruation: Women whose first period was before age 10 are more likely to have uterine fibroids.
  • Women who take birth control pills are less likely to develop significant uterine fibroids.
  • Family history: Women whose mothers and sisters have uterine fibroids are more likely to have them.
Who Gets Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are extremely common. In fact, many women have uterine fibroids at some point in life. Uterine fibroids in most women are usually too small to cause any problems, or even be noticed.

Fibroids occur three (3) times more often in African-American women than White women, and more than 20 percent of all women above 35 years of age have fibroids. They can range in size from a pea to a cantaloupe or watermelon.

Common symptoms of Fibroids

• Heavy or prolonged bleeding during menstrual periods
• Pressure
• Abdominal swelling
• Pelvic pain
• Lower back pain
• Painful intercourse
• Constipation
• Frequent urination

Fibroids may cause pregnancy complications including first trimester miscarriage depending on their location and size. In some cases, one or more new fibroids may develop after myomectomy (surgical removal). Some experts indicate that if they are no, or minor, symptoms, the best thing to do is probably nothing. In fact, since estrogen stimulates the growth of fibroids, when a woman is nearing or in menopause, when estrogen production decreases, this best thing to do may often be to wait it out. That’s because fibroids tend to shrink or disappear during or after menopause.

Treatment Issues

Most fibroids don’t need treatment, but a woman who has them should be examined at least once a year. Medications are available to slow the rate of growth or stop fibroids from growing. Although fibroids can usually be removed alone (called myomectomy), if they block urinary or bowel function, or are too large for myomectomy treatment, hysterectomy
(removal of the uterus) may be necessary. With large fibroids, the decision between myomectomy and hysterectomy can be a real challenge for the affected woman, in consultation with her physician.