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What are uterine fibroids?

If you have painful periods with terrible cramping and heavy bleeding, it could be the result of uterine fibroids.

“Uterine fibroids, or leiomyomas, are benign muscular growths that occur in the uterus,” says Tia Guster, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont.  “They are very common and typically appear during the childbearing years.”

Fibroids can grow on the inside or the outside of the uterus and they range in size.

“They can be really small — about the size of your fingertip — or as large as a baby’s head,” says Dr. Guster.

No one knows what causes uterine fibroids to develop, but certain populations have a higher risk of getting them. Risk factors include:

  • Age. Fibroids usually develop in the 30s and can continue through menopause.
  • Ethnicity. African-American women have a higher risk of developing fibroids.
  • Family history. Women who have family members with fibroids may be more likely to develop them.

What are the symptoms of fibroids?

Most women with fibroids don’t experience any symptoms.  But those who do may have the following symptoms:

“If you have no idea what's going on and you have extremely painful periods, pressure and bloating, you should immediately go see your doctor and we can start the workup,” says Dr. Guster.  

 How are fibroids treated?

“We try to tailor the management toward your main symptom,” Dr. Guster explains. “If you have heavy vaginal bleeding and cramping, we may use an intrauterine device (IUD) or hormonal contraception to reduce the bleeding or stop your period altogether.”  

Some women have fertility issues or heavy vaginal bleeding due to the location of their fibroids. In these situations, Dr. Guster recommends fibroid removal, or a procedure called a myomectomy.

Women with multiple or extremely large fibroids that cause severe pain and bleeding may consider having a hysterectomy, or surgery to completely remove the uterus.

To schedule an appointment with a gynecologist near you, click here.

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