Uterine Fibroids: What You Need to Know
Posted bySarah Handzel, BSN, RN
You may have heard of uterine fibroids, but you might not know what they are or who gets them. Many women develop them at some point during their lives. Since they usually don’t cause symptoms, most don’t even know they have them. Either way, it’s important to know what they are and what causes them.
What Are They?
Women of all ages may develop them, but they usually appear in women during their childbearing years. It’s estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of women during these years will develop these masses,1 and up to 80 percent of women will have them once they reach age 50,2 according to the International Journal of Women’s Health. Fibroids, also known as leiomyoma, are muscular tumors that grow in the walls of the uterus, but they’re usually benign — that means they don’t turn into cancer, says the Office on Women’s Health.3 They can range in size, and some grow slowly while others grow very rapidly or stay the same size.4 There might be one or more masses that exist at the same time.
Why Do They Develop?
It’s not entirely understood why some women get these masses and others go their whole lives without them, but several factors might influence your likelihood of developing them. It’s been shown that estrogen and progesterone encourage leiomyoma growth, notes the Mayo Clinic. In fact, they’re more responsive to these hormones compared to other, normal uterine cells.4 It’s even been shown that they start to shrink when a woman enters menopause and the levels of these two hormones in her body drop off.4
You might have a better chance of having one or more growths if a woman in your family already does.3 Other influences like your age, ethnicity, eating habits and weight might all play a role.3 If you got your first period early, take birth control pills, have a vitamin D deficiency or drink alcohol, you might have an increased risk of developing these masses.4
What Are Some Tests?
There are several tests your doctor can perform to see whether you have uterine fibroids. If you think you do, your doctor will probably perform a routine pelvic exam first. Many leiomyoma are found this way, some even accidentally. If your doctor feels any irregularities or lumps in your uterus, she might order more tests to confirm the suspicion. For example, an ultrasound uses sound waves and is a good way to get a picture of your uterus. Fibroids show up fairly easily on these scans. In more complicated cases, doctors often recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which has been shown to be one of the most sensitive tests for evaluating uterine masses and can usually detect very small fibroids.1
Sometimes, doctors choose to perform a hysterosonography, which uses sterile saline to expand your uterus. This makes it easier to view masses in certain parts of your uterus.1 Similarly, a hysterosalpingography might be performed using dye to show your uterus and Fallopian tubes more clearly on X-ray images.5 In some cases, your doctor might choose to perform a hysteroscopy. During this exam, a small, lighted telescope is inserted through your cervix and into your uterus, which is then expanded using sterile saline. This gives your doctor the ability to look at your uterine walls directly for any tumors or other masses.5
If you’re worried about uterine fibroids, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re usually benign. You might live your whole life without ever knowing you have them, but talk to your doctor to be sure. If needed, your doctor can help you rule out any serious problems and develop a plan for dealing with them.
1Uterine fibroids: current perspectives. International Journal of Women’s Health. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7abb/94135aee31861e9b5615cf44c2c78315b409.pdf
2Fibroids. National Women’s Health Resource Center. http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/fibroids
3Uterine fibroids fact sheet. Womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html#a
4Uterine fibroids: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/symptoms-causes/dxc-20212514
5Uterine fibroids: Diagnosis. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/diagnosis-treatment/diagnosis/dxc-20212528
- Posted by Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
- On January 30, 2017