According to the National Uterine Fibroid Foundation, as much as 80% of women will experience uterine fibroids in their lifetime.
It's very common for women to not recognize they have uterine fibroids. This is because there's no symptoms! Small fibroids usually don’t require extensive treatment, but larger fibroids can severely impact the quality of life and fertility. Understanding the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options are the first steps to living a fulfilling life with uterine fibroids.
Also called myomas, uterine fibroids are growths (noncancerous) that consists of the muscle and tissue that make up the uterine wall. The smooth muscle cells known as myocytes transform into abnormal muscle cells that manifest as benign tumors. Uterine fibroids can range in size from tiny seedlings undetectable to the naked eye to clusters that can range in size from 1 mm to 8 inches or larger. In extreme cases, multiple fibroids can expand so much that they can reach the rib cage.
Signs and Symptoms
Most women with smaller fibroids don’t have symptoms that require specialized treatment. Larger or more invasive fibroids can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Frequent urination
- Menstrual periods lasting more than a week
- Backache or leg pains
While doctors don't know the exact cause of uterine fibroids, many believe that a a uterine cell continues to divide until a fibroid develops. Research has found several risk factors such as:
- Family history
- Hormone levels
- Micronutrient deficiency
Prevention and Non Surgical Treatment
Those without symptoms usually don’t need treatment, but the condition still needs to be monitored regularly. For those who do need treatment, there are several nonsurgical and surgical treatment options. A doctor can properly assess the condition of the fibroids and suggest the best treatment option.
Many women who experience light symptoms don't want to undergo surgery for various reasons, such as pregnancy. In this case, nonsurgical treatment options, such as medication and hormonal therapy, may help manage smaller uterine fibroids. After assessing the severity of the fibroids and the patient's medical history, a doctor will determine which medication is the best option.
Surgery is the best option for fibroids that have progressed to the point where they can impact the quality of life. Surgical treatment options include:
- Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) - During this minimally invasive procedure, a vascular specialist inserts a catheter into the uterine arteries and starves the fibroids of their blood supply. This treatment is an appropriate surgery for smaller fibroids.
- Endometrial Ablation - For those experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, this procedure removes fibroids by destroying the uterine lining. This surgery is ideal for smaller fibroids located inside the uterus. One precaution of this procedure, however, is that it drastically reduces the chances of conceiving afterward.
- Myomectomy - This surgery removes uterine fibroids without removing healthy tissue from the uterus. This procedure is ideal for women who want to continue to have children or keep their uterus for other personal reasons.
- Hysterectomy - This surgical treatment removes the uterus and all fibroids. Doctors may suggest this treatment when the fibroids are severely invasive and not responsive to other treatment options. A hysterectomy can be radical, partial, or full, and the surgery eliminates the ability to get pregnant.