What Is Uterine Fibroids?

What are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that form from muscular tissue on the uterine wall. You can develop one or several fibroids. These tumors can range in size from as small as a seed to as large as a grapefruit, distorting and enlarging the uterus. These growths are almost always benign. The chance of uterine fibroids developing into cancer is very rare – only one in 1,000 will turn out to be cancerous. If you have uterine fibroids, it doesn't mean you have an increased chance of developing a cancerous fibroid or another form of cancer in the uterus.

Fibroids are most common in women in their 40s and early 50s. While they are very common, many women don't know they have fibroids since they are too small to produce any symptoms. If the fibroids are large enough to cause issues, they can cause extreme discomfort, abdominal distension, pain, heavy menstrual bleeding and frequent urination.

What Causes Uterine Fibroids?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids isn't clear, however there are several factors that contribute to their development, including:

  • Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones that stimulate the development of the uterine lining each month as the body prepares for pregnancy. These hormones also affect the growth of the fibroids, which shrink after menopause and when anti-hormone medications are used.
  • Genetic: There is some evidence that uterine fibroids run in families. If your mother or grandmother developed fibroids, you may be more likely to develop them as well.

What are the Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids?

In women who have symptoms, they usually experience the following:

  • Heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle.
  • Prolonged bleeding during your menstrual cycle lasting seven days or more.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Pelvic pressure or pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Difficulty emptying your bladder.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Lower back pain.
  • Complications during pregnancy and labor. 

Diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids

Your physician can discover fibroids during a routine pelvic exam while checking the uterus, ovaries and vagina. The following imaging tests will further confirm the existence of fibroids:

  • Ultrasound.
  • MRI.
  • X-Ray.
  • CT Scan.

Once a detailed diagnosis is reached, your physician will determine the best treatment options for you.

Treatment of Uterine Fibroids at Penn

The type of treatment you receive depends on your age, the severity of your condition, the type of fibroids you have, whether you're pregnant or wish to have children in the future.

Treatment that helps control fibroid symptoms include:

  • Birth control pills.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUD) that release hormones.
  • Iron supplements to prevent or treat anemia caused by heavy periods.
  • Pain relievers.
  • Hormone therapy shots.
  • Monitoring through regular pelvic exams.

If your condition can't be controlled by medications or hormones, you may require surgery. The specialists at Penn Medicine's Department for Advanced Gynecologic Surgery have years of experience caring for women with some of the most complex gynecological conditions.

Penn Medicine surgeons and physicians offer new techniques in minimally invasive and robotic-assisted surgery for conditions like uterine fibroids. These methods lead to shortened recovery times, reduced pain and blood loss, letting you get back to your life in record time.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of gynecologic medicine. 

Penn Programs & Services for Uterine Fibroids

Reproductive Surgery

A treatment option to correct anatomical disorders that affect reproductive function

Uterine Fibroid Embolization

Uterine fibroid embolization, also called uterine artery embolization (UAE), is a minimally invasive treatment for uterine fibroids performed by an Interventional Radiologist.

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