Uterine Fibroids (Benign Tumors Of The Uterus)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Uterine Fibroids Slideshow

Quick GuideWomen's Health: A Visual Guide to Uterine Fibroids

Women's Health: A Visual Guide to Uterine Fibroids

What are the symptomsof uterine fibroids?

Most women with uterine fibroids have no symptoms.

However, abnormal uterine bleeding is the most common symptom of a fibroid. If the tumors are near the uterine lining, or interfere with the blood flow to the lining, they can cause heavy periods, painful periods, prolonged periods or spotting between menses. Women with excessive bleeding due to fibroids may develop iron deficiency anemia. Uterine fibroids that are degenerating can sometimes cause severe, localized pain.

Fibroids can also cause a number of symptoms depending on their size, location within the uterus, and how close they are to adjacent pelvic organs. Large fibroids can cause:

  • pressure,
  • pelvic pain,
  • pressure on the bladder with frequent or even obstructed urination, and
  • pressure on the rectum with painful or difficult defecation.

While fibroids do not interfere with ovulation, some studies suggest that they may impair fertility and lead to poorer pregnancy outcomes. In particular, submucosal fibroids that deform the inner uterine cavity are most strongly associated with decreases in fertility. Occasionally, fibroids are the cause of recurrent miscarriages. If they are not removed in these cases, the woman may not be able to sustain a pregnancy.

Do untreated uterine fibroids pose a risk?

For the most part, uterine fibroids that do not cause a problem for the woman can be left untreated. In some cases, even fibroids that are not causing symptoms require removal or at least close observation. Rapid growth is a reason to watch more carefully, since a rare cancerous form of fibroid (referred to as a leiomyosarcoma) can be a fast-growing tumor, and it cannot be differentiated from a benign fibroid by ultrasound, MRI , or other imaging studies. However, this type of tumor occurs in less than 1% of uterine fibroids.

Another risk of leaving these tumors alone is that they sometimes grow to a size that eventually cause significant symptoms, thus requiring removal. If fibroids grow large enough, the surgery to remove them can become more difficult and risky.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2015

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