Uterine fibroids, also called myomas or leiomyomas, are noncancerous growths that develop within the uterine lining, often during a woman’s childbearing years. They’re not associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer, nor do they commonly develop into any form of cancer.
Fibroids range in size from tiny spots you can’t see to bulky masses that enlarge and distort the uterus and abdomen, and you can have one or a bunch. Not every case produces symptoms, so your doctor usually finds them during a pelvic exam or a prenatal ultrasound.
Hany H Ahmed, MD, is an experienced, board-certified OB/GYN in Houston, Texas, who provides comprehensive women’s health services. These include conditions relating to pelvic pain, such as uterine fibroids.
As many women don’t know when fibroids warrant medical attention, he’s put together this guide to use as a reference.
What causes uterine fibroids?
The exact cause of uterine fibroids is unknown, but research suggests they arise due to multiple factors, such as genetic changes, hormone levels, the presence of growth factors, and the stickiness of the extracellular matrix, the material that holds cells together.
Uterine fibroids may develop from a stem cell in the uterus’ myometrium (smooth muscle tissue). This cell, which normally would become smooth muscle itself, divides repeatedly and creates a firm, rubbery mass characteristically different from the surrounding tissue.
The new tissue may grow slowly or quickly, or it may remain the same size. Women who develop fibroids during pregnancy may find the fibroids shrink or disappear after birth as hormone levels diminish and the uterus regains its normal size.
When fibroids need medical attention
If your fibroids cause no symptoms, there’s really not much to do for them. However, if you start experiencing symptoms, it’s prudent to get them checked out by Dr. Ahmed to ensure they’re not dangerous.
If you do get symptoms, the most common include:
- Heavier-than-normal periods
- Periods lasting more than a week
- Pelvic pain and/or pressure
- Abdominal swelling
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
- Back or leg pain
If you develop pain that won’t go away or comes on suddenly, or if you have bleeding between your periods, especially if it’s heavy, come in to see Dr. Ahmed immediately.
Uterine fibroids usually aren't dangerous, but they can be uncomfortable. Possible complications include heavy vaginal bleeding that can cause anemia, a drop in your red blood cell count. Being monitored by your doctor can prevent this from developing into anything more serious.
Fibroids can also affect pregnancy. If they’re submucosal and bulge into the uterus, they could cause infertility or pregnancy loss. They also slightly increase your risk of premature delivery and miscarriage. With medical supervision, you can prevent most problems from occurring.
Most pregnant women (70%-90%) who have fibroids don’t experience complications. And for those who do, the most common are abdominal pain and light bleeding, which won’t affect the developing fetus.
If fibroids cause the fetus to be in an abnormal delivery position, a cesarean section can ensure the baby’s health.
If you have uterine fibroids, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Having Dr. Ahmed take a look can alleviate any worries if they’re not a concern, and lead to effective treatment if they are. Give the office a call at 713-489-3348 to schedule a consultation, or book online with us today.