Uterine fibroids are benign, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, as many as 1 in 5 women have fibroids during their childbearing years. The cause of fibroids is unknown, however their growth may be linked to high amounts of circulating estrogen. Uterine fibroids may be very tiny – the size of a pea – or can grow very large – the size of a grapefruit or even larger.
Many women who have uterine fibroids do not even know because, in many cases, fibroids cause little or no symptoms at all. In other cases – depending on the location and size – fibroids can cause distressing symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- Lower abdominal pain or pressure
- Bladder pressure or frequent urination
- Excessive bleeding during periods
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Constipation or difficult bowel movements
- Pain during intercourse
- Lower back pain
- Difficulty conceiving or frequent miscarriage
In the majority of cases, fibroids are diagnosed using intra-vaginal ultrasound, in which your doctor inserts an ultrasound probe inside the vagina in order to view the uterus and ovaries on a computer screen. If your fibroids are particularly large your doctor may also be able to feel them while performing an internal pelvic exam. Another diagnostic method that can be used to detect fibroids is called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), in which a dye is injected up through the cervix and into the uterus under x-ray surveillance. This test is normally performed to determine whether the fallopian tubes are open, but can also detect whether there are any fibroids inside the uterine cavity.
Fibroids and Fertility
Uterine fibroids may cause problems with trying to conceive depending on their severity, location and size. Fibroids that grow within the uterine lining pose a risk to fertility since they can hinder the ability of a fertilized egg to implant itself in the uterus. These types of fibroids may also cause inflammation in the uterine lining, which can also affect implantation. Other fibroids that grow within the muscular layer or on the outside of the uterus can also pose a risk to fertility, especially if they are growing large enough and in a location where they can block one or both of your fallopian tubes. In this case, the sperm are unable to reach the egg and fertilization cannot occur. In each of these cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the fibroid in order to restore your fertility. In some cases, alternative therapies like acupuncture and Chinese herbs may be effective for naturally shrinking fibroids.
Medline Plus: Uterine Fibroids