Learn more about uterine fibroids from Michelle Louie, M.D., a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic.
I'm Dr. Michelle Louie, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. In this video, we'll cover the basics of uterine fibroids. What is it? Who gets it? The symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Whether you're looking for answers for yourself or someone you love. We're here to give you the best information available. Uterine fibroids, also called leiomyomas or myomas, are growths that appear in the uterus. They're made of uterine muscle. They're noncancerous and extremely common. In fact, 75 to 80% of people with a uterus will be diagnosed with fibroids at some point in their lives. These growths often show up during the reproductive years, most commonly in your 20s to 30s. They can range in quantity, size and growth rate. So each case is a bit different.
Who gets it?
We believe uterine fibroids occur when one cell of muscle divides repeatedly to create a firm, rubbery mass of tissue. Scientists are not yet sure exactly what sparks this behavior, but we're looking into specific genes. We do know a couple of risk factors that may make someone more likely to get fibroids. First, race. For reasons that are unclear, fibroids are more prevalent and more severe among black patients compared to other racial groups. Second, family history. If your mother or sister had fibroids, you're at increased risk for developing them, too. And more studies look into other risk factors like obesity, lifestyle choices, and diet.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with fibroids don't have symptoms at all. That's why they're often found unintentionally during a routine checkup. If a patient does have symptoms, heavy, prolonged, or painful menstrual bleeding is a common problem. Periods that lasts more than one week or cause soaking through pads or tampons every hour or large blood clots are also considered abnormal. If fibroids get very large, they can cause your belly to bulge like a pregnancy or press on nearby organs causing constant pelvic pressure, frequent urination, or difficulty passing bowel movements. In some cases, fibroids can make it harder to get pregnant or cause problems during pregnancy or childbirth. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
How is it diagnosed?
Fibroids are often found during a routine pelvic exam. If your doctor feels an irregularity in the shape of the uterus or if you come in with symptoms, they'll probably order a diagnostic test like an ultrasound. Beyond that, your doctor may need more information, especially if you're trying to get pregnant or at risk for uterine cancer. They might order blood tests or imaging studies like an MRI. Sometimes other unique imaging studies that use water to see inside the uterus or dye to check the fallopian tubes are needed if you're trying to get pregnant. Even hysteroscopy, in which a small camera is guided through the vagina, is sometimes used to see inside the uterus where some fibroids can be located. All these tests are done in service of getting a better, clearer picture of what's going on or to check for other problems.
How is it treated?
There are many ways in which we treat uterine fibroids. If you have no or only mild symptoms, as many women do, the best treatment may be no treatment at all. We call this watchful waiting where we keep a careful eye on your fibroids until further action is needed. Medication or birth control is another option which can relieve symptoms like heavy, irregular or painful periods. For some more severe cases, surgery may be needed. The kind of surgery we recommend depends on the size, number, and location of fibroids, as well as your personal goals, feelings about pregnancy and surgery, and general health. A hysterectomy is where the uterus and the fibroids are removed together. And it is a great option for those who have no desire for pregnancy as it guarantees no more period bleeding and the fibroids cannot return in the future. A myomectomy is a surgery in which we remove the fibroids through the vagina or the abdominal wall. Uterine fibroid embolization is a more minor procedure in which we blocked the blood supply to the fibroids, causing them to shrink but not go away completely. A radiofrequency fibroid ablation is where a probe is inserted into the fibroid and heats the tissue, so it shrinks. Magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound passes energy through the abdomen to destroy the fibroid. Lastly, an endometrial ablation is a procedure in which a device is inserted through the vagina to treat the uterine lining, and stop heavy period bleeding due to fibroids. But this does not treat the fibroids themselves.
Fibroids are common, noncancerous and often don't need treatment. Whether or not you do end up needing treatment, know that there are many options that can address your concerns and give you a great quality of life. Talk to your doctor or get a referral to a fibroid specialist to ensure that you are offered all the treatment options. If you'd like to learn more about fibroids, watch our other related videos, or visit mayoclinic.org. We wish you well.