A fibroid (also known as a uterine fibroid or leiomyoma) is a common benign tumor that grows in or around the uterus. Fibroids can vary in size and cause symptoms such as abdominal pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, but some people have no symptoms.
The cause of fibroids is not clear, but risk factors include a family history of fibroids, obesity, and age. More than half of all people with a uterus will have a fibroid by the age of 50.
Treatment for fibroids may include drugs, surgery, or other medical procedures.
A recent study found that emergency rooms increased significantly from 2006 to 2017 due to fibroid symptoms such as pelvic pain and heavy bleeding.
Here is an overview of fibroids, including the most common symptoms, risk factors, treatment options, and when to see your doctor.
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Types of fibroids
Everyone’s experience with fibroids will look and feel different. It is possible to have just one fibroid or several. They can range in size from as small as a pea to a melon. Fibroids can be located inside the uterus or on its outer surface. They can grow quickly or slowly.
Fibroids are categorized based on their location, size, and the symptoms they can cause.
The different types of fibroids include:
- Intramural fibroids are the most common type. They are located inside the uterine wall.
- Subserous fibroids grow on the outside of the uterine wall and can put pressure on nearby organs (like the bladder) or distort the shape of the uterus if they get big enough.
- Pedunculated fibroids develop a stalk or stalk that connects them to the uterus. The stalk can twist as the tumors grow away and cause severe pain.
- Submucosal fibroids are located just below the lining of the uterus and can enter the uterine cavity. They’re not as common as the other types and can cause profuse bleeding.
It is possible to develop more than one type of fibroid at the same time.
The symptoms of fibroids depend on how large the tumors are and where they are located. People with fibroids can have symptoms that come and go. Symptoms can worsen during the menstrual cycle. In some people, the symptoms of the fibroids are severe and cause constant pain.
Sometimes fibroids don’t cause symptoms.
Possible symptoms of a fibroid are:
When to see a doctor
If you are concerned about having a fibroid, it is important to speak to your doctor. Even if your symptoms are mild, your doctor can determine if a fibroid or other condition is causing them and determine the best course of treatment.
Experts don’t know what causes fibroids, but they suspect hormones play a role. High levels of estrogen and progesterone (hormones produced by the ovaries) can stimulate the growth of fibroids, which tend to shrink when these hormone levels drop after menopause.
There are certain things that make a person more likely to get a fibroid over the course of their life.
Risk factors for fibroids are:
- Family history: You are more likely to get a fibroid if you have a family member who has it.
- obesity: People who are overweight or who have high blood pressure may be at greater risk of developing fibroids.
- old: Fibroids become more common with age and are most common in people between 30, 40, and 50. After menopause, fibroids tend to get smaller.
- diet: A diet high in red meat can be linked to fibroid development, as can vitamin D deficiency.
Studies have shown that fibroids are more common in black people with a uterus. Low vitamin D levels, obesity, stress, genetics, and inequitable access to health care have been suggested as risk factors, but more research is needed to confirm the link.
If your doctor thinks you have a fibroid, there are a few steps that they need to take to confirm the diagnosis. They will first ask you about your health, including your family’s medical history. You will also want to know what your menstrual cycles have been like and describe any symptoms you have had.
Medical tests your doctor might use to diagnose fibroids include:
- Pelvic exam to check for abnormal growths
- Ultrasound or transvaginal ultrasound to get a clear view of the uterus
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at images of the uterus and other pelvic organs
If you have a fibroid that doesn’t cause pain or other symptoms, you don’t necessarily need to treat it. However, if your symptoms are severe or the fibroid is large and can damage surrounding organs, your doctor will help you decide the best treatment.
There are several ways to treat fibroids, including drugs, non-invasive procedures, surgery, or a combination of therapies.
You and your doctor will choose a treatment based on several factors, including:
- How severe are your symptoms?
- The size and location of the fibroid (s)
- Whether you want to get pregnant in the future
- Your age and how close you are to menopause
There are several over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs that can be used to treat fibroids. Some options only treat the symptoms of a fibroid while others affect the growth itself.
Medications your doctor might suggest include:
- Over-the-counter pain relieverssuch as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if you have mild fibroid pain and discomfort.
- Iron supplements if you are iron deficient due to profuse bleeding.
- Methods of birth control such as birth control pills, intrauterine devices, and Depo-Provera can help control heavy menstrual bleeding.
- GnRH agonists (hormone-stimulating drugs) to temporarily shrink fibroids (if you need to have surgery to remove the fibroids, your doctor may want you to take these drugs before surgery to reduce the size of the tumors so they are easier to remove be able).
- MyFembree, which is a recently approved combination drug of GnRH, a synthetic estrogen, and a type of progestin to stop heavy menstrual bleeding.
Depending on the size, location, and number of fibroids you have, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the fibroids.
Less invasive surgical options include:
- laparoscopy, a surgical procedure that uses small incisions and an instrument with a tiny camera to remove easily accessible fibroids
- Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a radiological procedure that uses injections to shrink fibroids and sometimes die
- MRI-guided ultrasound surgery, a technique that uses ultrasonic waves to shrink or remove fibroids
In more severe cases, you may need to consider a more invasive type of surgery. These options include:
- hysterectomy is an operation to completely remove the uterus. While this will get rid of the fibroids, it also means you will no longer have the opportunity to get pregnant in the future.
- Myomectomy is a surgical procedure that requires a large incision in the abdomen to remove the fibroids without removing the uterus. While a person still has their uterus and has the potential to become pregnant in the future, there is also a risk that the fibroids will come back.
While there are no home remedies that directly treat fibroids, you may find that some of them will help you manage fibroid symptoms. Talk to your doctor about complementary therapies that they would approve for you to try.
Types of alternative therapies you may want to discuss with your doctor include:
There are also some lifestyle changes that can help you deal with fibroid symptoms more effectively and improve your overall health and wellbeing, including:
- Diet change
- Work out
- Managing your stress level
- Lose weight if you are overweight / obese
Fibroids are common, but everyone’s experiences with them will be different. While some people are able to effectively treat the condition or receive treatment that will reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life, untreated fibroids can cause complications – even if you don’t have symptoms.
The potential complications of fibroids are primarily related to fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth and include:
- Fertility problems
- Pregnancy complications (such as miscarriage or early labor)
- The need for a caesarean section (or caesarean section)
If you have fibroids and are planning to get pregnant, it is important to speak to your doctor. While fibroids aren’t always a problem during pregnancy, there are risks of complications.
frequently asked Questions
How do you treat fibroids naturally?
Some people find natural alternative treatments and lifestyle changes helpful. For example, a diet high in fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight can improve your overall health. Stress management techniques like yoga and meditation can increase your wellbeing and help you cope with fibroid symptoms.
Some studies have found that acupuncture, green tea, and certain forms of traditional Chinese medicine can reduce the severity of menstrual cramps and bleeding, but there is no research that uses these treatments specifically for fibroids.
You should always speak to your doctor before trying any alternative or complementary therapy.
What is the difference between uterine fibroids and fibroids?
The terms fibroid, leiomyoma, and uterine fibroids all refer to the same thing – a benign tumor or a growth in or around the uterus. Fibroids are most commonly referred to as uterine fibroids.
Why is a fibroid painful?
The size and location of a fibroid determine how much pain it causes. Some fibroids on the outside of the uterus put pressure on the surrounding organs. Fibroids in the uterine wall can distort the shape of the uterus and cause abdominal pressure and pain.
What is considered a large fibroid?
Fibroids vary in size. Generally, a large fibroid is considered 10 centimeters (cm) or more in diameter.
Here is a size reference:
- Small fibroids: Up to 5 cm in diameter (about the size of a seed to a cherry)
- Medium fibroids: Up to 10 cm (about the size of a plum or an orange)
- Large fibroids: 10 cm or larger (about the size of a large grapefruit or small melon)
A word from Verywell
If you have been diagnosed with a fibroid, you should know that there are several options for treating and managing the condition. If you don’t have symptoms, you may not need specific treatment. However, if you are in pain or have other symptoms that are affecting your life, it is important to let your doctor know.
Everyone has a different experience with fibroids as the size and location of the growths not only determines the pain and symptoms they cause, but also which treatments are the best choices.