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Fibroids are firm, compact tumors made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. They develop in the uterus. It is estimated that between 20% to 50% of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. Some estimates state that up to 30% to 77% of women will develop fibroids sometime during their childbearing years. Although Only about one-third of these fibroids are large enough to be detected by a healthcare provider during a physical exam.
In more than 99% of fibroid cases, the tumors are not cancer. These tumors are not linked to cancer and do not increase a woman's risk for uterine cancer. They may range in size, from the size of a pea to the size of a softball or small grapefruit.
The cause of uterine fibroids is not known. But, it’s thought that each tumor develops from an abnormal muscle cell in the uterus. This cell multiplies rapidly because of the effect of estrogen.
Women who are nearing menopause are at the greatest risk for fibroids. This is because of their long exposure to high levels of estrogen. Women who are obese and of African-American heritage also seem to be at an increased risk. The reasons for this are not clearly understood.
Other risk factors:
Some women who have fibroids have no symptoms, or have only mild symptoms. Other women have more severe, disruptive symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms for uterine fibroids. Symptoms of uterine fibroids may include:
Fibroids are most often found during a routine pelvic exam. Your healthcare provider may feel a firm, irregular pelvic mass during an abdominal exam. Other tests may include:
Since most fibroids stop growing or may even shrink as you approach menopause, your healthcare provider may simply suggest "watchful waiting." With this approach, your healthcare provider monitors your symptoms carefully to make sure that there are no significant changes and that the fibroids are not growing.
If your fibroids are large or cause significant symptoms, treatment may be necessary. Treatment will be discussed with you by your healthcare provider based on:
In general, treatment for fibroids may include:
In some cases, the heavy or prolonged periods, or the abnormal bleeding between periods, can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. This also requires treatment.
Uterine fibroids may have effects on the reproductive system, causing infertility, increased risk of miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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