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Women's Health

April 2014

What You Need to Know About Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are a common condition. Some research suggests up to 8 out of 10 women may have these noncancerous tumors. Many don't know it, though, because they may never have any symptoms. For those who do, timely treatment can restore a woman's well-being.

Fibroid facts

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous (benign) tumors that can grow in a woman's uterus. It isn't clear what causes them. But their size is linked to hormonal changes. They tend to grow when a woman is pregnant and shrink after menopause. They most often affect women in their 40s. African-American women and those with a family history are also more likely to have them.

In most cases, uterine fibroids are harmless. Your doctor may find one during a routine pelvic exam. Treatment isn't necessary if you don't have any symptoms. In some women, though, they can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, bloating, cramps, fatigue, frequent urination, and painful sex. These symptoms can be taxing—physically and emotionally.

One recent survey of nearly 1,000 women with uterine fibroids showed just how damaging they can be. More than three-quarters of respondents said they were anxious and concerned about their fibroids. Some felt they had no control over their lives. Others feared that the condition could lead to cancer.

Many women also said that symptoms plagued their personal life and job. They were sometimes unable to keep up with daily life. Twenty-eight percent even said they had missed days of work to deal with symptoms.

Treatment options

Many women with uterine fibroids delay treatment—sometimes for more than 5 years. One major reason is that they don't want to lose their ability to conceive a child. This concern is mostly related to having a hysterectomy. This is the surgical removal of a woman's uterus. It's a common treatment for fibroids in the U.S. But it isn't the only one.

Women with fibroids can benefit from other treatments. The most effective one depends on the location and size of the uterine fibroid. Doctors also consider a woman's age and her desire to still have children.

Birth control pills and pain relievers can ease menstrual bleeding and body aches. Drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists can reduce fibroid size. These drugs interfere with hormone production. They are very effective. But they can cause hot flashes and other menopause-like symptoms.

Other nonsurgical treatments for fibroids include uterine artery embolization. In this procedure, a small, thin tube is placed in an artery that supplies blood to the fibroid. Tiny particles are injected to block the blood supply. This eventually shrinks the fibroid. Another procedure uses ultrasound waves to destroy the growths.

A hysterectomy is the only way to cure uterine fibroids. Doctors often recommend it for older women with large fibroids and severe bleeding. Other surgical options include endometrial ablation. It's a procedure that uses microwave energy to destroy the lining of the uterus and the fibroids. A myomectomy removes only the fibroids. It's a choice for women who still want to have children.


Here is more information about uterine fibroids, including how they are diagnosed. 


Online resources

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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