Sexual Health Q&A

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are tumors that form inside or outside a woman’s uterus or within the uterine wall. Sometimes, they are attached to the uterus by “stems.” Most of the time, the growths are not cancerous.

Women can get fibroids at any age, but they are more common in women in their thirties and forties.

Fibroids can range in size. Some can be seen only under a microscope. In more severe cases, they can grow to the size of a grapefruit.

For some women, fibroids are not a problem. For others, fibroids are extremely troublesome. Some common problems associated with fibroids are:

  • Problems with menstrual periods. Women might have heavier bleeding or longer periods. They might also get their periods more often or experience more menstrual pain.
  • Bleeding between periods.
  • Anemia. More bleeding can decrease a woman’s iron levels.
  • Pain. Women may feel pain in the lower back or abdomen. Pain during sex is possible, too.
  • Difficulties with urination or bowel movements. Women may need to urinate more frequently or get constipated.
  • Enlargement of the lower abdomen. Fibroids can be large enough that a woman appears pregnant, even if she’s not.

Scientists are not sure what causes uterine fibroids, but they believe the hormones estrogen and progesterone are involved. Fibroids tend to grow when levels of these hormones are high (such as during pregnancy) and shrink when levels decrease (such as at menopause or when a woman takes anti-hormone medication).

Fibroids can also run in families.

Depending on their severity, size, and location, fibroids may be treated with medication or surgery. A woman’s desire to become pregnant is also considered, as some treatments lead to infertility.