A uterine fibroid tumor is a mass of tissue that grows in on or the uterus. Although these tumors can grow quite large and cause health problems, they are usually not cancerous.
It is not known exactly what causes a fibroid tumor to develop, but research has shown that their growth is linked to a woman’s estrogen levels. Estrogen is a sex hormone that regulates the female reproductive cycle, which is why women are more likely to suffer from uterine fibroids during their fertile years. When estrogen levels rise during pregnancy, fibroid tumors usually grow, and they often shrink when estrogen levels drop, for example after a pregnancy or during menopause.
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are very common. This condition affects as many as 70% of women by the time they reach 50, although not all fibroid tumors cause symptoms. Some fibroid tumors are so small they can only be seen with a microscope. Larger tumors are more likely to cause unpleasant symptoms, which include the following.
- Heavy, long periods
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Frequent need to urinate, sometimes with difficulty emptying the bladder
- Miscarriage and infertility
Types of Fibroid Tumors
There are several different types of fibroid tumor, and the different types all have slightly different symptoms.
Submucosal fibroids grow inside the uterus. This type of fibroid tumor is the most likely to cause abnormal bleeding, heavy periods, and reproductive problems.
Subserosal fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus. These fibroids are often painful and can cause other symptoms, such as problems with urinating or passing bowel movements, because they can press on nearby organs such as the bladder and bowel. Backache can even result from subserosal fibroids if the tumors press on the spinal nerves.
Intramural fibroids grow within the uterine wall. Intramural fibroids can grow inwards or outwards to develop into submucosal or subserosal fibroids.
Pedunculated fibroids are attached to the uterine wall by a long stalk of tissue. They can become very painful if the stalk becomes twisted, which cuts off the blood supply to the fibroid tumor.
Ways To Treat Fibroids
A fibroid tumor can be removed surgically, but this is not always necessary. Women who want to have children and are struggling to get pregnant may have their chances of conceiving improved by fibroid tumor removal. Women who have severe pain or other complications resulting from uterine fibroids may also be advised to have them removed.
Many fibroids do not cause symptoms and therefore can be left untreated. The growth of a fibroid tumor can be slowed or even reversed by hormone injections, which reduce the amount of estrogen produced by the body. Birth control pills can be used to control heavy bleeding, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can reduce the painful cramps associated with menstruation.
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 Hartmann et al. Economic burden of uterine leiomyomata. Obstet Gynecol. 2006; 108(4):930-937.
 US Markets for Gynecological Devices 2011. Millennium Research Group, Inc. 2010.