What Women Should Know About Fibroids

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What are fibroids?

Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus.  Fibroids are almost always benign and they can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many of them in the uterus. They also range in size  - some can be very small, and some can be as large as a grapefruit.

Who's at risk for fibroids?

There are a few risk factors for fibroids that women should be aware of. Family history, eating habits, older age, weight, and ethnicity can all affect a woman's chances of getting a fibroid. About 20 percent to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50, and African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.

What causes fibroids?

Doctors aren't really sure what causes fibroids, but it's certain that they are under hormonal control. They grow rapidly during pregnancy, when hormone levels are high and they shrink when anti-hormone medication is used. They also stop growing or shrink once a woman reaches menopause.

What are the symptoms?

Generally, most people with fibroids don't notice any symptoms, but some women may experience heavy bleeding or painful periods, bloating in the abdominal area, pain during sex, lower back pain, or problems with infertility.

How are fibroids detected?

The doctor can feel the fibroid with her or his fingers during an ordinary pelvic exam, as a (usually painless) lump or mass on the uterus. Your doctor also can do imaging tests, like an ultrasound, to confirm that you have fibroids.

How are fibroids treated?

If you have fibroids but do not have any symptoms, you may not need treatment. If you have fibroids and have mild symptoms, your doctor may suggest taking medication. Several drugs commonly used for birth control can be prescribed to help control symptoms of fibroids. If you have fibroids with moderate or severe symptoms, surgery may be the best way to treat them.