Fibroid tumors are grow in the uterus usually during women’s fertile years. They are the most common, non-cancerous pelvic masses. They are rarely cancerous and can grow to be quite large and uncomfortable. Fibroid tumors can range in size from quite small (measured in millimeters) to large (many centimeters.) Large fibroid tumors can distort the urterus, making it appear lumpy when visualized during a pelvic exam.
Causes of Fibroid Tumors
Some theories about the causes of uterine fibroid tumors are conclusive, while others are only speculative. There is conclusive evidence that fibroids can be caused by:
- The hormone estrogen: uterine fibroids grow in the presence of estrogen. This is why they tend to develop and grow during the fertile years of a woman’s life (when she has the highest levels of estrogen in her body), and they stop growing and new fibroids usually don’t develop after menopause.
- Heredity: apparently scientists have found gene mutations in fibroid tissue cells. A patient’s risk of developing fibroids increases if a close family member (mother and/or sister) has the tumors.
- Race: for reasons unknown, African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than any other race. They are more likely to have larger and/or multiple fibroids as well.
Possible factors that decrease the risk for developing fibroids (speculative):
- Oral contraceptives
- Pregnancy (although some theorize that they actually grow during this time, due to increased estrogen levels)
- Being athletic (whereas being overweight has been thought to increase the odds of developing fibroids)
Symptoms of Uterine Fibroid Tumors
- Abdominal or pelvic pressure, fullness, or chronic pain
- Bladder problems such as difficulty emptying or an increase in urgency
- Difficulty moving bowels
- Very heavy and/or painful periods
- Bleeding between periods
If you experience some or all of these symptoms, or if you have a family history of fibroids, you might want to consider scheduling an appointment to see your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Knowing that they can distort the overall appearance of the uterus, uterine fibroids are actually quite smooth, rounded, and said to be well-defined. They are overgrowths of the muscular, middle layer of the uterus, the myometrium. When the tumors they project into the endometrium, the submucosal, they can cause heavy menstrual bleeding which can go beyond the days of a normal cycle. Fibroid tumors can project outward, the subserosal, and can press on the bladder or rectum. This can cause additional problems. One other type of fibroid actually grows outside of the uterus and is attached by a very narrow band of blood vessels, known as the “pedunculated.”
What you should also know about fibroids is that they can cause a heavy, full feeling in the abdomen and can be singular or multiple in number. For some women, they feel hard when they touch the lower area of their abdomen.
There are types of tumors you should be familiar with, starting with the utering fibroids which are classified according to their location within the uterus. There are three primary types of fibroid tumors:
Subserosal fibroids develop in the outer portion of the uterus and continue to grow outward. These fibroids typically do not affect a woman’s menstrual flow, or cause excessive menstrual bleeding, but can cause pain due to their size and the added pressure on other organs.
Intramural fibroid tumors are the most common and develop in the uterine wall and expand. These fibroids can cause the uterus to appear larger in size which can be mistaken for weight gain or pregnancy. Associated symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic and back pain, frequent urination and pressure.
The other type of fibroid tumor is submucosal, the least common of the three. These fibroids develop within the uterine cavity and can cause excessive menstrual bleeding along with prolonged menstrual cycles.
A woman may have one or all of these types of fibroids. It is common for a woman to have multiple fibroid tumors and it may be difficult to understand which fibroid is causing your symptoms. Because fibroid tumors are a diffuse disease of the uterus, there are usually more fibroids present than can be detected because of their small size. Even a woman who has only one visible fibroid needs to assume that there are multiple uterine fibroids present when discussing therapy. Uterine fibroids may also be referred to as myoma, leiomyoma, leiomyomata, and fibromyoma.
If you think you may have uterine fibroids, or are experiencing any of the related signs and symptoms of uterine fibroids, please contact your primary care provider or OB/Gyn as soon as possible in order to rule out any other complications that could be causing your symptoms. Knowing the types of fibroids and understanding their symptoms can help you choose the right fibroid treatment.