A fibroid is a lump or growth in the uterus that is not cancerous. Fibroids can be as small as a pea to as large as a basketball. They are usually round and pinkish in color, and they can grow anywhere inside or on the uterus.
About 30% of women older than 30 years have fibroids, and they usually appear between the ages of 35 and 45. Some women are more likely to get fibroids, including black women, women who have never been pregnant and women who have a mother or sister with fibroids.
The cause of fibroids is unknown. However, the female hormone estrogen seems to play a role in stimulating the growth of some fibroids.
Some women never realize that they have fibroids because they have no symptoms. In other women, uterine fibroids are discovered either during a routine gynecologic exam or during prenatal care.
When symptoms of fibroids occur, they can include:
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
- Unusually frequent urination
- Abdominal swelling
- Low back pain during intercourse or during menstrual periods
- Fatigue or low energy from heavy periods and excessive bleeding
- Infertility, if the fibroids are blocking the fallopian tubes
- Repeated miscarriages
Usually, a woman doesn't realize that she has a fibroid until her gynecologist feels it during a pelvic exam. If your gynecologist thinks you have a fibroid, several tests can confirm the diagnosis:
- Pelvic ultrasound — In this radiology test, a wand-like instrument will be moved over your lower abdomen or may be inserted in your vagina to view the uterus and other pelvic organs more closely. The instrument produces sound waves that create an image of your pelvic organs.
- Hysterosalpingogram — In this X-ray procedure, a dye is injected into your uterus and fallopian tubes to outline any irregularities.
- Hysteroscopy — During this procedure, a narrow instrument that looks like a telescope is inserted through your vagina into your uterus. This lets the doctor look for abnormal growths inside your uterus.
In this procedure, a thin tube-like instrument called a laparoscope is inserted through a small incision in your belly so the doctor can look inside the abdomen.