Many women experience complications with their reproductive system. Whether it's irregular periods, problems with ovulation, or endometriosis, most women will face some reproductive obstacles at one point or another. Uterine fibroids are one of the most common types of reproductive complications. Affecting between 50% and 80% of women, these uterine growths can cause symptoms of pain, bleeding, and pelvic pressure. Though most fibroids are typically harmless, some fibroids can grow to large sizes, interfering with conception or pregnancy.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids, also called leiomyomomas, are tumors that grow inside your uterus. These tumors are made up of tissue cells from your uterus, and can range in size from just a few centimeters to more than 8 inches in length. Uterine fibroids tend to grow in clusters, and can form inside the uterus, within the uterine tissue, or outside the uterus. The vast majority of uterine fibroids are benign tumors, and thus are not a cancer risk.
Types of Uterine Fibroids
There are actually several different types of uterine fibroids. These fibroids are classified according to where they grow in your uterus.
- Intramural Fibroids: Intramural fibroids are the most common type of fibroids. They grow inside the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Subserosal Fibroids: Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside portion of your uterus. These fibroid tumors grow on long stalks that extend from the uterus. This means that subserosal fibroids can grow to large sizes and easily push against other organs and tissues.
- Submucosal Fibroids: Submucosal fibroids grow on the inside layer of the uterus. They can distort the shape and size of the uterus, making pregnancy difficult. These fibroids are rare however, accounting for only 5% of all cases.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids remain a mystery to researchers and health professionals. No one is really sure why they grow or why some women are more prone to them than others. Uterine fibroids may be caused by a hormonal shift, such as that occurring in pregnancy or when using certain medications. Fibroids may also be triggered by overactive hormone glands in your body.
Who Gets Uterine Fibroids?
Most women actually have at least one uterine fibroid inside their uterus. Most of the time these fibroids are small and symptomless, so you may not even realize that you have them. However, some women are more prone to uterine fibroids, including:
- women who have a previous history of uterine fibroids
- women who have hormonal imbalances
- women who are pregnant
Uterine fibroids do become problematic for some women. In fact, about 20% of uterine fibroid cases are severe enough to cause unpleasant symptoms.
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Typically, uterine fibroids are small and cause no recognizable symptoms. However, sometimes fibroids can grow to large sizes and begin to cause discomfort. Common symptoms of fibroid tumors include:
- pelvic pressureleg pain
- unusually heavy or long menstrual periods
- severe menstrual cramps
- abdominal pain
Complications of Uterine Fibroids
Though rare, uterine fibroids that have grown to large sizes or in sizeable clusters can cause health complications:
Uterine fibroids can sometimes interfere with a healthy pregnancy. During pregnancy, uterine fibroids tend to grow to large sizes as they are triggered by your body's increase in hormones. This can compromise the shape of your uterus and limit the amount of space that your baby has to grow. As a result, miscarriage or fetal malpresentations may occur. Uterine fibroids can also increase the chance of:
Uterine fibroids have been linked to infertility in some women. About 3% of women who have trouble conceiving actually have very large fibroids that can interfere with fertilization and implantation. Subserosal and intramural fibroids are most commonly associated with infertility issues.
Treating Uterine Fibroids
If your fibroids aren't causing you any pain and aren't interfering with your ability to get pregnant, it is unlikely that you will need any treatment for them. However, if your fibroids are large, treatment might be necessary to reduce symptoms. Fibroid treatment can include:
- fibroid ablation (a type of laser treatment)
- medications to shrink the fibroids
- surgery to remove the fibroids
- hysterectomy to remove the uterus (only done in severe cases)