Uterine fibroids are a non-cancerous tumor that grows in and around the walls of the uterus. In some cases, fibroids are present without symptoms and require no special treatment. Other times, however, they can cause harmful symptoms and lead to unwanted complications. In women of child-bearing age, uterine fibroids are the most common form of non-cancerous tumors.
No one knows exactly what causes fibroids, but researchers believe that hormones, including estrogen and progesterone levels, play a role in their development. There also appears to be a genetic component to the condition. Women who are overweight, eat a lot of red meat or ham or are of African-American descent also are more apt to develop fibroids. The risk for fibroids goes up as a woman enters her 30s, 40s and 50s, but it declines after menopause.
Most fibroids do not present symptoms, but when they do, they can cause back pain or pain during intercourse. Other symptoms of fibroids include heavy bleeding during periods or a feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdominal area. Frequent urination is another common symptom that is sometimes related to uterine fibroids. In some cases, they can cause complications to pregnancy and labor, including a greater risk for a cesarean section. In rare instances, they can cause infertility.
Many fibroids do not require treatment, especially if they don’t cause symptoms, and fibroids that cause mild symptoms can often be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. In addition, birth control pills are often prescribed to regulate hormones and control the growth of fibroids. There are also drugs, called gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, that can help shrink some fibroid tumors. For more severe fibroids, surgery may be an option.
SOURCES: U.S. Office on Women's Health; U.S. National Library of Medicine