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Diagnosis / Fibroids

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that can grow both on the inner and outer walls of the uterus, as well as inside the muscle wall of the uterus. The exact cause isn’t known, but fibroids typically begin as a microscopic mass of cell overgrowth. Because fibroids don’t appear prior to puberty, and can shrink or disappear after menopause, it seems that fibroid development and growth is influenced by your estrogen and progesterone hormones.

Fibroids are mostly made up of muscle cells, and while they can be as small as a poppy seed or as large as a grapefruit, they typically range in size from a large marble to a baseball. They can occur alone or in clusters, and may develop slowly over a period of several years, or rapidly over the course of a few months. While it may seem like a serious diagnosis, fibroids are always non-cancerous, and having them does not increase your risk of developing cancer.

The mystery of uterine fibroids continues with their development and disappearance. You may have large fibroids that begin to shrink one day and never bother you again, or you may go through a period of sudden and rapid growth. They move around the uterus and sometimes disappear completely as quickly as they appeared. This could have to do with the cycling of your hormones – for example, pregnancy tends to encourage fibroid growth because of the ever-changing rush of hormones.

Uterine Fibroid Classifications

Uterine fibroids are classified according to where in the uterus they are found. The three most common types of uterine fibroids are:

  • Subserosal Fibroids – The serosa is the outermost uterine layer, and its job is to help support the uterus in the pelvic cavity. Subserosal fibroids grow on this thin uterine layer, and can be either attached directly (sessile) or grown on a stalk (peduncular).
  • Intramural Fibroids – These fibroids are the most common, forming in the middle layer (or myometrium) of the uterus. The myometrium layer is the thickest layer of the uterus, and is what contracts to remove the endometrial lining during your period. When large fibroids form in this area, they can distort the shape of the uterus.
  • Submucosal Fibroids – Submucosal fibroids grow in the innermost layer of the uterus, known as the endometrium. Like subserosal fibroids, they too can be either sessile or peduncular. Only about 5 percent of fibroids are submucosal.

Because uterine fibroids tend to be an elusive diagnosis, it’s difficult to classify them into only these three categories. Many women may experience fibroids in each of the three classifications, and some women may have hybrids that span more than one location.

Risk Factors for Uterine Fibroids

Even though the cause of uterine fibroids is unknown, studies have shown that there are several factors that may contribute to a higher chance of occurrence.

  • Age – While uterine fibroids can occur in any woman of childbearing age, the risk for fibroids increases when a woman is in her 30s and 40s.
  • Family History – If a family member has had uterine fibroids, you are more likely to have them. Additionally, if your mother has or had fibroids, your risk increases by about 30 percent.
  • Environmental Factors – Diet and lifestyle can affect your risk of fibroids; if you eat a diet high in red meat, drink alcohol, or are obese, your risk is increased. If you started your period at an early age, or you use birth control, your risk increases as well. Deficiencies in Vitamins A, D, and iron may also be a factor.

Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids

Up to 80 percent of women can develop uterine fibroids at some point during their childbearing years, but often don’t even know they have them. For many women, they experience no symptoms relating to fibroids, although for 25 percent of patients, symptoms of uterine fibroids include (but are not limited to):

  • Heavier, longer periods
  • Pain during your period
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Lower back, stomach, or pelvic pain
  • Bloating or abdominal pressure
  • Urinary issues (frequent urination, incontinence)

The types of symptoms you may experience can relate to the size and location of your uterine fibroids. If the fibroids or their side effects are causing you discomfort, talk to your doctor about options for treatment.

IVC’s Treatment of Uterine Fibroids

At IVC, we offer a minimally invasive treatment for uterine fibroids known as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). UFE is a procedure that deprives the fibroids of a blood supply, which causes them to shrink.

If uterine fibroids are causing you pain or discomfort, call IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also read our brochure on Uterine Fibroids & Pelvic Congestion.

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Jason Bauer, MD RVT
Michael Pfister, MD RVT

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