What Are Uterine Fibroids?

what are fibroidsUterine fibroids are benign tumors that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus. They may also be called uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or merely fibroids. Located in the female pelvis between the bladder and the rectum, the uterus is an organ whose main function is to nourish the developing fetus prior to birth.

Fibroids range in size from as small as a grape (less than one inch), to larger than a melon. Fibroids are classified by their location, which affects the symptoms they may cause and how they may be treated. They can appear:

  • Beneath the outer surface of the uterus
  • Totally within the wall of the uterus
  • Inside the uterine cavity

Risk Factors

Fibroids occur in approximately 20-50 percent of women depending on race. The medical community is not completely certain what causes them or why some women have fibroids and others don't. Factors that seem to play a role include:

  • Age: Middle-aged women are commonly diagnosed with fibroids
  • Weight: Overweight women are at a higher risk for fibroids
  • Race: Fibroids are more common in African-American women, although they are found in women of all ethnic backgrounds

Symptoms

Most fibroids do not cause symptoms; however, some women may experience a combination of the following:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Worsening pain with menses
  • Frequent urination, a feeling of urgency to urinate or, rarely, the inability to urinate
  • Constipation
  • Pelvic pressure, "feeling full" in the lower abdomen
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • An increase in the size around one's waist and change in abdominal contour
  • Back ache or leg pain
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