Uterine fibroids are growths that occur inside or on the uterus. Composed of muscle and connective tissue, uterine fibroids are the most common type of female reproductive system tumor. Fibroids can be located inside the uterus, in or on the wall of the uterus, or just outside the uterus and attached by a “stem.”
Some estimates say anywhere from 30% to 77% of women will develop one or more fibroids during the childbearing years, but most will be too small to cause symptoms or be diagnosed.
The cause of fibroid development is unknown, but hormonal fluctuations and family history of fibroids seem to play significant roles. Uterine fibroids can range in size from about the size of a pea to the size of a grapefruit in some women.
Some very small fibroids may cause no symptoms at all, but when symptoms do occur, they can include:
Rarely. More than 99% of uterine fibroids are noncancerous.
Diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s symptoms and medical history, followed by a pelvic exam. Other techniques used to confirm a diagnosis can include transvaginal ultrasound, X-rays, MRI, and hysteroscopy, which uses a flexible instrument called a hysteroscope to see inside the uterus.
When fibroids are very small and cause no symptoms, usually no treatment is needed beyond monitoring. However, large fibroids or any fibroids that cause unpleasant symptoms can be treated using one of these techniques:
Many women with fibroids can still become pregnant and carry a baby to term. However, if the fibroids are large or if they begin growing during pregnancy, they can cause complications and even miscarriage. Women with a history of uterine fibroids will need to be managed carefully during pregnancy to help prevent complications.
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