Fibroids are the most commonly seen tumors of the female reproductive system. For some women, they cause no symptoms. For others, uterine fibroids can cause severe bleeding and other symptoms. But an important thing to know about fibroids is that in the vast majority of cases, fibroids are not cancerous.
While we can’t pinpoint the cause of fibroids, it’s generally believed they develop from muscle cells in the uterus that grow rapidly because of the influence of estrogen. As a result, women who are approaching menopause are usually at the greatest risk for fibroids because of their long exposure to estrogen. African-American women and women who are obese also seem to have an increased risk.
The following are the most common symptoms for fibroids:
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
- Abnormal bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain
- Frequent urination
- Pain during intercourse
In some cases, the heavy bleeding can lead to an iron deficiency anemia, which requires treatment.
How do you know if you have fibroids?
Fibroids are most often found during a routine pelvic examination. To get a better view of the fibroid, your doctor may order an X-ray or a transvaginal ultrasound, in which a small ultrasound wand is placed in the vagina.
If a fibroid is found, providers often “watch and wait,” since most fibroids stop growing or may even shrink as you approach menopause. There are also other methods of treatment, including surgery, that may either target the fibroid itself or even remove the entire uterus, though that’s for extreme cases.
Bottom line: Be sure to schedule your annual visit with your healthcare provider where you can discuss any fibroid-like symptoms and get the thorough pelvic exam and screenings every woman needs.