Uterine Fibroids

Health Information

Uterine Fibroids

UW Health obstetricians and gynecologists provide a broad range of medical and surgical services to diagnose and treat fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are benign growths that form inside the lining of the uterus, on its outer surface, within its wall, or attached by a stem-like structure.
These growths typically occur during a woman's childbearing years and often stop growing or shrink once a woman reaches menopause.
Out of the entire population of women, 20 to 30 percent have uterine fibroids. Many women who have fibroids are not aware of them. Apart from those trying to conceive, uterine fibroids don't need to be removed if they aren't causing pain, bleeding or growing. But for those women who do have symptoms, fibroids can be hard to live with, and may require management through a medical or surgical procedure.

Causes of Uterine Fibroids

The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. However, fibroid growth seems to depend on the hormone estrogen. As long as a woman with fibroids is menstruating, a fibroid will probably continue to grow, usually slowly. 

Types of Uterine Fibroids
Fibroids can be so tiny that you need a microscope to see them. However, they can also grow very large and even fill the entire uterus. Although it is possible for just one fibroid to develop, usually there is more than one.
Risk Factors for Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are the most common pelvic tumor and usually affect women over the age of 30. They are rare in women under 20, or in those who have gone through menopause. They are more common in African-Americans.
Family history increases a woman's risk of developing fibroids.

Most fibroids do not cause any symptoms, but some women with fibroids may experience:

  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Spotting or bleeding between periods 
  • Painful periods 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Pain during intercourse 
  • Lower back pain 
  • Infertility 
  • Constipation and backache
  • Abdominal fullness, gas

Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids

A pelvic examination may reveal an irregularly shaped, lumpy or enlarged uterus. Frequently, this diagnosis is reliable.
In some cases, diagnosis of fibroids can be difficult. Fibroid tumors have been mistaken for ovarian tumors, inflammation of the fallopian tubes, and pregnancy. 

An MRI or transvaginal ultrasound or pelvic ultrasound may be done to confirm the diagnosis of fibroids. An endometrial biopsy (biopsy of the uterine lining) may be needed to rule out cancer. 

Treatment of Uterine Fibroids
In some cases, such as large fibroids, or when a woman is experiencing infertility, it may be necessary to remove the fibroid. Procedures used to treat fibroids are:

  • Hysteroscopy
  • Myomectomy
  • Uterine Artery Embolization
  • Hysterectomy