Written by M. Allison Williams, Ph.D.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear in women during childbearing years. Also called fibromyomas, leiomyomas or myomas, uterine fibroids are commonly treated with full or partial hysterectomy. As many as three out of four women have uterine fibroids at sometime during their lives, but most are asymptomatic. Fibroids are normally discovered during a pelvic exam or prenatal ultrasound.
The most common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
• Heavy menstrual bleeding
• Prolonged menstrual periods — seven days or more of menstrual bleeding
• Pelvic pressure or pain
• Frequent urination
• Difficulty emptying your bladder
• Backache or leg pains
• Painful intercourse
There are few known risk factors for uterine fibroids, other than being a woman of reproductive age. Regular exercise might help women prevent fibroids because being overweight in combination with low physical activity and higher mental stress can be risk factors in causing the disease. Other risk factors include family history and race. If an immediate family member (mother or sister) has or had fibroids, there is an increased risk for developing fibroids.
For reasons yet unknown, African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women. Additionally, black women tend to get fibroids at an earlier age, have larger fibroids, and they tend to have more fibroids then women of other racial groups. Conversely, oral contraceptives, pregnancy and childbirth can provide protection from developing fibroids. Women who take oral contraceptives have a lower risk of fibroids, with the exception of women starting oral contraceptives between the ages of 13 and 16. Women experiencing pregnancy and childbirth have fewer fibroids, providing obesity is avoided postpartum through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Treatment options for uterine fibroids include, but are not limited to, drug therapy, hormone replacement, and vaginal or abdominal hysterectomies.
Additional information on uterine fibroids:
National Women’s Health Resource Center
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology