If you’ve ever noticed that your periods and menstrual cramps seem more severe than those of other women, uterine fibroids may be to blame. Fibroid symptoms include heavy menstruation, pelvic pain or pressure, frequent urination, a diminished sex drive, and low energy levels. Women often develop fibroids during their reproductive years — with up to 80% affected by age 50. Despite the prevalence of this condition, most people don’t realize that they are at risk.
At USA Fibroid Centers, we aim to educate women about uterine fibroids, fibroid symptoms, and the full range of available fibroid treatment options. We encourage you to seek treatment if you are suffering from painful or debilitating symptoms. Before making any treatment decisions, we recommend consulting with a fibroid specialist to learn about both surgical and non-surgical options.
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow within or on the uterus. While some patients develop a single fibroid, others experience multiple growths. They range in size from that of a tiny seed to as large as a melon — with the largest weighing over 20 pounds. Understandably, sufferers often ask, “are uterine fibroids dangerous?” and may even believe fibroid tumors are cancerous.
The good news is that these benign growths are not life-threatening by themselves. However, fibroids have the potential to harm surrounding organs, negatively impact fertility, and cause a variety of painful and unpleasant symptoms. Fibroid symptoms can affect your daily life and even become debilitating. When symptoms are severe, we generally recommend looking into treatment.
What are Fibroids?
These benign growths are formed from smooth muscle cells and fibrous tissue. Fibroids are usually round and firm — and appear this way on an ultrasound or MRI. These types of imaging tests are useful diagnostic tools, though fibroids are often first detected during a routine pelvic exam. Doctors and researchers are still investigating what causes uterine fibroids to grow in the first place.
Even though fibroid tumors are not cancerous, there are other important reasons to treat them — such as to resolve pain. Fibroid sufferers should be aware that fibroid tumor treatment options include both surgical and non-surgical methods.
Types of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids come in several different types, classified by location within the uterus. The type, size, location, and number of growths impact which fibroid tumors in uterus symptoms occur, as well as their severity. Be on the lookout for these signs of fibroid tumors:
- Enlarged uterus
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Abnormal bleeding
- Anemia-induced fatigue
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Frequent urination
- Severe cramps or pelvic pressure
When a fibroid outgrows its blood supply, a process known as uterine fibroid degeneration can occur. During degeneration, a fibroid’s cells begin to die, causing it to temporarily shrink. The process itself can be extremely painful, and any resulting relief from symptoms is usually temporary. A degenerated fibroid will often expand and degenerate repeatedly.
Below are three common types of fibroids:
Intramural uterine fibroids are embedded in the muscular wall of the uterus; technically, all fibroids begin this way. It is common for intramural uterine fibroids to grow in clusters. This classification of fibroid typically causes mild symptoms, if any at all.
A subserosal uterine fibroid is a benign tumor that grows on the outside of the uterus and bulges into the pelvic or abdominal cavity. These growths can be attached to the uterus directly or via a thin stalk. Typically, subserosal uterine fibroids cause somewhat different symptoms than intramural or submucosal fibroids, which grow inside the uterine cavity.
As a result of their external location, subserosal fibroids tend to have less of an effect on uterine function and more impact on neighboring organs such as the bladder.
As discussed above, some fibroids outgrow their blood supply, leading to the process of fibroid degeneration. During degeneration, calcium deposits can build up on top of the remaining fibroid tissue. The result is referred to as a calcified uterine fibroid.
Calcification often occurs after menopause, since changes in hormones can affect fibroid growth and degeneration. However, it can also occur during the reproductive years.
A growing body of research about what causes fibroid tumors is helping us better understand this complex health issue. Doctors believe there are several contributing factors to the development of fibroids, listed below. There may also be lifestyle factors that play a role, including obesity and eating a poor diet. To learn more, please visit our Causes of Uterine Fibroids page.
Genetic sequencing has indicated genetic changes within fibroids that differ from normal uterine muscle cells. Scientists have found that more than 70% of fibroids possess a mutation of the single gene MED12. If you’re wondering, “are fibroids genetic?” evidence does indicate that if you have a close family member with fibroids, you’re more likely to develop them.
Can hormones affect fibroids? This seems likely. If you’re wondering what hormone feeds fibroids, there are several. Researchers do know that hormones which stimulate the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle, such as estrogen and progesterone, play a major role in fibroid development. Research has shown that fibroids possess more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle. Once hormone production declines — for example, after menopause or pregnancy — fibroids often shrink.
Although doctors have found a connection between hormones and fibroids, a direct cause-and-effect relationship remains unproven. New research is exploring the opposite question — can fibroids affect hormones? Again, more research is needed in order to understand the association between the two.
OTHER GROWTH FACTORS
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF), a protein made by the body that stimulates the growth of many different types of cells, is another possible cause of uterine fibroids. It may also have an impact on additional fibroid growth. For those interested in learning how to control fibroid growth, we recommend discussing fibroid treatment and possible lifestyle changes with a fibroid doctor.
The most effective methods to reduce uterine fibroid growth rates, or eliminate growth altogether, are fibroid surgery or a less-invasive Uterine Fibroid Embolization treatment.
EXTRACELLULAR MATRIX (ECM)
Research suggests that extracellular matrix function has a role in the growth of uterine fibroids. So what is Extracellular Matrix (ECM)? It is a material that causes cells to stick together, giving fibroids their fibrous consistency. Along with this trait, storing growth factors and causing changes within the cells are also attributed to extracellular matrix. Uterine fibroids have been scientifically linked to an increased production of ECM.
Uterine fibroids are the most common type of tumor of the reproductive tract, most often affecting women during their childbearing years. However, if you are female of any age, you are considered at risk. If you are of African-American descent, you may also be disproportionately affected. Family history is also a major risk factor –– if you have a female relative with fibroids, you are more likely to develop them.
If you suspect you may have uterine fibroids, you may be wondering what comes next. The first thing to do is get a proper medical diagnosis. This is extremely important because a variety of other conditions share similar symptoms as fibroids. Some of these may be life-threatening.
While fibroids are frequently discovered during a routine pelvic exam, there are other occasions when patients ask for medical intervention due to debilitating symptoms. Experiencing the process of fibroid degeneration, in particular, often prompts sufferers to seek treatment.
To diagnose fibroid tumors — whether intramural fibroids, subserosal fibroids, calcified fibroids, or other types — doctors use a variety of methods that include:
- Pelvic exam: Doctors are often able to feel an enlarged or misshapen uterus, either of which may indicate the presence of fibroids.
- Ultrasound: If fibroids are suspected, this is usually the first — and sometimes only — imaging test ordered.
- MRI: When more information is required, this detailed imaging exam allows your medical provider to more clearly see the size, number, and location of fibroids.
- Hysterosonography: This test — also called a saline infusion sonogram — can be used to expand the uterine cavity for a better look inside.
- Hysteroscopy: Less commonly, this surgical procedure is performed to see directly into the uterine cavity.
While uterine fibroids are rarely considered dangerous, different types of fibroids can be more or less likely to cause painful or unpleasant symptoms. As previously discussed, intramural fibroids tend to cause mild symptoms, if any. Fibroid degeneration, on the other hand, can cause severe pain and bleeding for a period of days to weeks as cells die and the fibroid shrinks. Calcified fibroids develop during fibroid degeneration and can result in new, ongoing, or increased symptoms. Subserosal fibroids often have less impact on uterine symptoms, but tend to cause issues related to surrounding organs like the bladder.
A variety of fibroid treatment options are available. These may include surgical ones — such as hysterectomy or myomectomy — and non-surgical methods such as the use of medications, or an effective outpatient procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization.
At USA Fibroid Centers, we recommend seeking uterine fibroid treatment if your symptoms are impacting your career, social relationships, sex life, self-esteem, and/or ability to perform normal daily activities. Discovering the best treatment for fibroids — especially if you’d prefer to avoid the risks of major surgery and its lengthy recovery — may be surprisingly easy. Along with discussing symptoms and a diagnosis with your doctor, we recommend consulting a fibroid specialist in order to understand the full range of uterine fibroids treatment options.
Although many women believe that hysterectomy — the surgical removal of the uterus — is the only uterine fibroids treatment available, this simply isn’t true. At USA Fibroid Centers, we want you to know about Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) — a less-invasive, lower risk, FDA-approved outpatient treatment that preserves your uterus and can eliminate painful, uncomfortable, and inconvenient symptoms. For most patients, the recovery time is a short one to two weeks.
Compared to fibroid surgery, the advantages of Uterine Fibroid Embolization include:
- Effectively shrinks your fibroids
- UFE is a minimally invasive technique
- It is an outpatient procedure, so no lengthy hospital stay
- Involves less pain
- There is less risk of infection, excessive bleeding, and blood clots
- General anesthesia is not required
- Offers a shorter recovery time
- Preserves the uterus
- Retains fertility
Contact USA Fibroid Centers Today!
Our primary goal is to get you back to living life to its fullest. To learn more about fibroid treatment without surgery, schedule a consultation with a fibroid expert at USA Fibroid Centers today. For your convenience, we offer either telemedicine appointments or in-person visits at dozens of clinic locations nationwide.
At USA Fibroid Centers, we are dedicated to providing effective solutions for fibroid symptoms. Our treatment is minimally-invasive and covered by most insurance plans. If you think you may have uterine fibroids, contact us today to discuss all your treatment options.
Frequently Asked Questions
ARE UTERINE FIBROIDS CANCEROUS?
No. Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous, benign tumors.
WHAT CAUSES UTERINE FIBROIDS TO GROW?
The cause(s) of uterine fibroids is not entirely understood. However, research studies have indicated that the growth of uterine fibroids may relate to a number of different factors such as genetic changes, hormones, taking growth hormone substances, and extracellular matrix (ECM).
WHEN DO UTERINE FIBROIDS NEED TO BE REMOVED?
We recommend seeking treatment if your fibroid symptoms are interfering with any aspect of your life including your career, exercise routine, sex life, self-esteem, or social interactions.
DO UTERINE FIBROIDS BURST?
It is extremely rare that uterine fibroids rupture, but when they do, it can be life-threatening. If you have fibroids and experience sudden and severe abdominal pain, please visit a medical professional immediately.
WHERE ARE UTERINE FIBROIDS LOCATED?
Uterine fibroids grow in or along the uterine walls. Fibroid sub-types are categorized by location:
- Submucosal fibroids grow into the uterine cavity
- Intramural fibroids grow within the uterine wall
- Subserosal fibroids grow outside of the uterus
- Pedunculated fibroids grow on stems from the uterine surface or into the uterine cavity
HOW DO UTERINE FIBROIDS AFFECT PREGNANCY?
For most women with fibroids, pregnancy and delivery proceed as expected. However, it is possible that uterine fibroids can cause complications of your pregnancy and, in rare cases, infertility. Complications may include:
- Fetal growth restriction
- Placental abruption
- Preterm delivery
- C-section delivery
- Breech baby
ARE UTERINE FIBROIDS SERIOUS?
These non-cancerous tumors are not considered dangerous, but they have the potential to cause harm to surrounding organs. Fibroids can also result in painful and undesirable symptoms.
WHY DO FIBROIDS CAUSE BACK PAIN?
A uterine fibroid pressing on a spinal or pelvic nerve, vein, or artery can cause back pain. This pain may radiate beyond the lower back to the hip, buttock, or thigh, or down the leg.