What are uterine fibroids?

If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, it’s only natural to wonder how this condition could affect your health. Uterine fibroids often aren’t associated with any symptoms, but may present problems for women trying to conceive.

What are they?

Uterine fibroids, also called leiomyomas, are benign (noncancerous) growths that develop on the uterus, and are mostly made up of muscle and connective tissue. They either grow by themselves or in clusters (also called nodes), and they can range in size, too. Uterine fibroids that are extremely small often don’t have to be treated, but the bigger ones might require treatment.

In most cases, fibroids don’t interfere with conception. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is possible that fibroids – “especially submucosal fibroids” – could cause infertility, pregnancy loss, a spontaneous abortion, placental abruption, fetal growth restriction, or preterm delivery. These risks are really only relevant to women whose fibroids significantly alter the shape of their uterus.

Why do they happen?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids isn’t yet known, but experts do know that they tend to happen more often to women who are of reproductive age or who are close to menopause. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that fibroids occur most commonly in women who are in their 30s and 40s.

It’s important to clarify that many women have fibroids and don’t know it, and are perfectly healthy regardless. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), anywhere from 25%-80% of women experience uterine fibroids at some point in their lives, and not all of them have symptoms or need treatment. This being said, however, some women experience symptoms that signal a need for intervention.

When are uterine fibroids a problem?

Women might need treatment if they experience symptoms like fever, nausea, pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, sensations of pressure on the bowels, abdominal bloating, difficulty emptying their bladders, or unusual monthly bleeding. In these cases, a woman might need medication or surgery to stop the growth of the fibroids.

Heavy flows resulting from fibroids may also contribute to anemia, a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells. Other women may notice severe pain if a fibroid outgrows its blood supply.

If you notice some of these symptoms, it might be best to speak to your healthcare provider.

The bottom line: your health

One statement from the Society of Interventional Radiology reports that only 10-20% of women who have uterine fibroids need treatment. If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, your specific treatment will depend on their size and location, but it’s possible that your provider won’t suggest any treatment for the time being, to see if they go away on their own. If you do need treatment, your provider will help you decide the best option for your health and comfort.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Uterine Fibroids.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 6 2016. Web.
  • “Uterine fibroids.” WomensHealth. Fact sheet from Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Jan 15 2015. Web.
  • “Fibroids.” OBGYN.UCLA. UCLA Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2016. Web.
  • “Uterine Fibroids.” PubMedHealth. National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine, Oct 22 2014. Web.
  • “Uterine Fibroids.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, May 2011. Web.
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