Fibroids are compact tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that attach themselves to the inside of the uterus. They are the most frequently seen tumors of the female reproductive system, and may range from the size of a pea to the size of a softball or small grapefruit.
An estimated 20%-50% of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. An estimated 30%-77% of women will develop fibroids sometime during their childbearing years, although, only about 30% of these fibroids are large enough to be detected by a health care provider during a physical examination.
In more than 99% of fibroid cases, the tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and do not increase a woman's risk for uterine cancer.
While the cause is not clearly known, it is believed that each tumor develops from an aberrant muscle cell in the uterus which multiplies rapidly because of the influence of estrogen.
Women who are approaching menopause are at the greatest risk for fibroids because of their long exposure to high levels of estrogen. Patients who are obese and/or of African-American ethnicity have an increased risk of developing fibroid tumors.
Symptoms vary widely between individuals. Some women may have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, while other women have more severe, disruptive symptoms.
The most common symptoms include:
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
- Pelvic pain
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- A firm mass, usually near the middle of the pelvis
Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, or abnormal bleeding between periods, can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which will also require treatment in some patients.
Fibroids are most often found during a routine pelvic examination. This, along with an abdominal examination by your physician, may indicate a firm, irregular pelvic mass.
Other diagnostic procedures include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Transvaginal ultrasound (also called ultrasonography):An ultrasound test which uses a small instrument called a transducer that is placed in the vagina
- Hysterosalpingography: An X-ray examination of the uterus and fallopian tubes that uses dye and is often performed to rule out tubal obstruction
- Hysteroscopy: Visual examination of the canal of the cervix and the interior of the uterus using a hysteroscope inserted through the vagina
- Endometrial biopsy: A sample of tissue is obtained through a tube which is inserted into the uterus
- Blood test: Used to check for iron-deficiency anemia if heavy bleeding is caused by the tumor
For more information or to schedule an appointment for a pelvic exam with a Summa physician, click or call (800) 237-8662.
Facts Women Should Know About Gynecologic Health — download our free guide.