Uterine Fibroid Tumors

What Are Uterine Fibroid Tumors?

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous lumps of tissue that grow on the inside or outside wall of the uterus or in the uterine cavity. They are not uncommon - in fact, estimates indicate that as many as three out of five women have them. However, many women are unaware of the presence of fibroid tumors because they either have never been told they have them, or they do not experience or associate pelvic pain with them. Fibroid tumors appear in women of childbearing age and these tumors are most frequently discovered during a pelvic exam or prenatal ultrasound.

Generally speaking, uterine fibroids are not problematic for many women. However, some women do experience pelvic pain, unusually heavy menstrual periods, urinary problems or fertility problems. In some women, uterine fibroids are the cause of recurrent miscarriages. Doctors believe the reason that uterine fibroids cause infertility problems for some women and not for others has to do with the type of fibroid and its positioning in the uterus.

Signs and Symptoms of Fibroids

Signs and symptoms of uterine fibroids that are most common include heavy menstrual bleeding and prolonged menstrual periods. Sometimes there is bleeding between periods as well. Pelvic pain or pressure, backaches and leg pain are also associated with fibroids. Urinary incontinence, frequent urination, and constipation can indicate the presence of uterine fibroids.

If a fibroid outgrows its blood supply, it can cause acute pain and once its nutrient supply is cut off, it begins to die. The byproducts of a fibroid that is degenerating as it dies can seep into tissue that surrounds it causing fever and pain. A fibroid that hangs by a stalk either inside or outside of the uterus can trigger acute pain through twisting on the stalk and cutting off the blood supply.

How Do They Develop?

The tumors develop through an overgrowth of cells from the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus. They range in size from seedlings that are not detectable by the eye to large masses that can enlarge the uterus. They appear in multiples and singles, sometimes enlarging the uterus so much that a woman may appear to be in the last trimester of a pregnancy.

Although the exact cause of fibroids is unknown, there are some factors that appear to be consistent with women suffering from them. Genetic alterations in genes that code for uterine muscle cells is one possible cause of uterine fibroids. Estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that promote the growth of the endometrium (uterine lining) appear to cause fibroids to grow. The fibroid tumor contains more estrogen and estrogen receptors than normal uterine cells. It is also thought that insulin-like growth factor, a substance produced in the body to maintain tissues, may be a factor in uterine fibroid growth.

If you have pelvic pain that doesn't go away, heavy or painful periods that last a long time, pain during intercourse, or urinary issues, see your doctor for medical care.

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