Fibroids are the most frequently seen tumors of the female reproductive system. Fibroids are firm, compact growth that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. They range in size from microscopic to masses that fill the entire abdominal cavity. In some cases they can be as large as a full term pregnancy.
In more than 99 percent of fibroid cases, the tumors are benign (non-cancerous). These tumors are not associated with cancer and do not increase a woman’s risk for uterine cancer. They may range in size, from the size of a pea to the size of a softball or small grapefruit.
It is estimated that between 20 to 50 percent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. Some estimates state that up to 30 to 77 percent of women will develop fibroids sometime during their childbearing years, although only about one-third of these fibroids are large enough to be detected by a health care provider during a physical examination.
They are often described based upon their location within the uterus. Subserosal fibroids are located beneath the serosa (the lining membrane on the outside of the uterus). These often appear localized on the outside surface of the uterus or may be attached to the outside surface by a pedicle. Submucosal fibroids are located inside the uterine cavity beneath the lining of the uterus. Intramural fibroids are located within the muscular wall of the uterus.
Causes of Fibroids
Experts cannot come to a common consensus about why fibroids occur.
During a woman’s reproductive years, estrogen and progesterone levels are high. When estrogen levels are high, especially during pregnancy, fibroids tend to swell. When estrogen levels are low, fibroids may shrink, for example, during a woman’s menopause.
Heredity may also be a factor; women whose close relatives have had fibroids have a higher risk of developing them.
Common Symptoms of Fibroids
Most women do not experience any symptoms of fibroids. That’s the reason most women with fibroids do not know they have them. The most common symptoms of fibroids are:
- Heavy & painful periods
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Painful sex
- Anemia (because of heavy bleeding)
- Pain in the legs
- Swelling in the lower abdomen
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