10 Things to Know About Uterine Fibroids

Eileen Bailey | May 8, 2017

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Uterine fibroids, also called leiomyomas, are tumors commonly found in women during the reproductive years. They are almost always benign. According to Womenshealth.gov, anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent of women develop fibroids before the age of 50.

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Symptoms of fibroids

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Fibroids can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, frequent urination, bloating of the abdomen, and pain. Some women do not experience any symptoms and never know that they have fibroids.

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Cause of fibroids

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No one knows for certain what causes fibroids, but they are thought to be associated with estrogen because they can grow rapidly during pregnancy when estrogen production is high, and once estrogen production stops in menopause, the fibroids often shrink.

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Risk factors

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There is a genetic factor. If you have a family history of fibroids, you are more at risk of developing them. Other risk factors include eating high amounts of red meat and obesity. African-American women are also more likely to develop fibroids, according to the Office of Women’s Health.

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No link to cancer

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Fibroids are almost always benign. Cancerous fibroids are called leiomyosarcoma; however, doctors do not believe these develop from non-cancerous fibroids, and they are most often found in postmenopausal women with fibroids, according to a 2014 report. You are not at a higher risk of developing other types of uterine cancers if you have fibroids.

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Fibroids during pregnancy

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Most women who have fibroids during pregnancy do not experience any problems and do not require any special care. Some problems that might be seen in women with fibroids include needing a cesarean section, breech birth, placenta separating from the uterus wall, and preterm delivery.

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Most of the time, your doctor can diagnose fibroids after a pelvic exam or ultrasound. If your doctor is concerned about cancer, he or she might order a biopsy. More extensive testing includes a hysterosalpingogram, which allows your doctor to view inside your uterus.

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Do you need treatment?

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Whether or not you need treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, you do not need treatment. If you experience mild pain, an over-the-counter pain medicine usually works.

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For more severe symptoms, your doctor might suggest a low-dose birth controlor one that uses progesterone rather than estrogen, such as Depo-Provera or a non-estrogen IUD. Other medications can be used to block estrogen production, which causes the fibroids to shrink.

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Noninvasive treatments

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There are treatments that use sound waves to destroy fibroid tissue. Other options include laparoscopic procedures to destroy the fibroids through freezing or electrical currents.

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If your fibroids are large or numerous and are causing physical problems, your doctor can surgically remove them. Some women choose to have a hysterectomy.

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Long-term outlook

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Most women with fibroids live for years without any symptoms and do not require any additional care or treatment.

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