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Understanding Uterine Fibroids and their Risk Factors

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids – also called leiomyomas – are noncancerous growths of the uterus. In fact, they almost never become cancerous. Uterine fibroids grow in the tissue of the uterus, often during a woman’s childbearing years. They have no set growth pattern. Some appear rapidly while others grow steadily over time. In some cases, they may even shrink. Uterine fibroids that appear during pregnancy can completely disappear after birth when the uterus returns to its normal size.

Just as their frequency can be unusual, uterine fibroids also appear in various sizes. Some are so small they can’t be seen by the human eye. Others can be big enough to increase the size of the uterus, causing it to expand as far as a woman’s rib cage.

Though as many as 75 percent of all women can experience uterine fibroids during their lives, many will be completely unaware because of a lack of symptoms. They’re often discovered during routine pelvic exams or while having a prenatal ultrasound. Uterine fibroids can, however, cause heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, constipation, pain during intercourse, pressure or pain in the lower back and abdomen, and frequent urination.

Key Risk Factors

As mentioned above, the primary risk factor for developing uterine fibroids is being a woman of reproductive age. But other factors exist that can also have an impact on fibroid development, including:

  • Heredity – If your mother or sister had fibroids, your risk of having them increases.
  • Race – African-American women are more likely to have fibroids than women of other racial groups. African-American women historically also have larger fibroids and experience development of fibroids at a younger age.
  • Menstruation – Women who have onset of menstruation at an early age are more susceptible.
  • Diet – Women who eat a diet higher in red meat and lower in green vegetables and fruit have a great chance of uterine fibroids.
  • Alcohol – Excess alcohol consumption increase the odds of fibroids.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Women must weigh their treatment options carefully. As noted, some women may have uterine fibroids but show no symptoms. Others will suffer without understanding the cause. Because everyone has different experiences we suggest conducting your own research. Speak to other women who have dealt with uterine fibroids. Consult with your gynecologist and an interventional radiologist (IR).

For those struggling with uterine fibroids, one solution is Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). UFE is an outpatient procedure that blocks blood flow to fibroids, causing them to shrink. If you’re considering this procedure, here are some questions to ask your doctor:

  • How often is the procedure successful?
  • How many UFE’s have you performed?
  • What results should I expect?
  • Are there typical complications?
  • How will I feel during and after the procedure?
  • How long should I expect to be off work?
  • What is the follow-up care?
  • Will I be able to get pregnant after UFE?
  • Will my insurance cover the procedure?