Uterine fibroids, or leiomyomata, are smooth muscle tumors that develop within or outside the wall of the uterus. The muscle cells start growing abnormally resulting in a fibroid, which is just a benign tumor. These fibroids are very common and almost all women might develop fibroids at one point in their lives. In most cases, they remain unnoticed as they are asymptomatic and harmless. Presence of fibroids is one of the leading causes of hysterectomies in women.
The actual cause of uterine fibroids is still unknown. Estrogen, the female hormone, seems to influence the growth of these benign tumors. Fibroids are seen only after puberty and it starts shrinking in size once menopause is achieved. This is mainly because of the dropping levels of estrogens in the blood after menopause. It normally develops after women reach the age of 3-years-old.
The most common factors that affect the development of uterine fibroids include:
- Family history of fibroids – Women who have close relatives with this condition have increased chances of developing fibroids.
- Early menstruation – Those who had menarche before the age of 10-years-old have enhanced risk of developing fibroids in the uterus.
- Birth control pills – The risk of fibroids reduces if the woman is on birth control pills.
- Pregnancy – Chances of developing fibroids are less if the woman has had children earlier.
Uterine fibroids may remain asymptomatic and many women come to know of their presence during a routine pelvic examination or during diagnosis of some other condition.
The most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Pain in the pelvic region
- Increased frequency of urination
- Pain at the back or legs
- Bloating feeling in the abdomen or pelvic region
In some rare cases, the growth of the fibroids may prevent the successful implantation of the embryo in the uterus. The two most common treatment options for uterine fibroids include drugs and surgery. Drugs that are generally used for the treatment of fibroids include Lupron, birth control pills, androgens, pain relievers, and iron. Among the surgical options, hysterectomy, myomectomy and focused ultrasound surgery are popular. Hysterectomy, the complete removal of uterus is a permanent method for preventing fibroids. In myomectomy only the fibroids are removed while the uterus is left as such.
Some of the less invasive methods to treat fibroids include:
- Endometrial ablation
- Uterine artery embolization