What is Fibroids ?

Fibroids are non-cancerous (benign) tumors that grow from the muscle layers of the uterus (womb). They are also known as uterine fibroids, myomas, or fibromyomas. The singular of uterine fibroids is Uterine Fibroma. Fibroids are growths of smooth muscle and fibrous tissue. Fibroids can vary in size, from that of a bean to as large as a melon. Fibroids affect at least 20% of all women at sometime during their life. Women aged between 30 and 50 are the most likely to develop fibroids. Overweight and obese women are at significantly higher risk of developing fibroids, compared to women of normal weight.

Malignant (cancerous) growths on the smooth muscles inside the womb can develop, called leiomyosarcoma of the womb. However, this is extremely rare.

Four types of fibroids

There are four types of fibroids and these are:

  1. Intramural These are located in the wall of the uterus. These are the most common types of fibroids.
  2. Subserosal fibroids These are located outside the wall of the uterus. They can develop into pedunculated fibroids (stalks). Subserosal fibroids can become quite large.
  3. Submucosal fibroids These are located in the muscle beneath the lining of the uterus wall.
  4. Cervical fibroids These are located in the neck of the womb (the cervix)

Causes of fibroids

Experts cannot come to a common consensus about why fibroids occur.

During a woman's reproductive years her 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, e.g. during a woman's menopause.

Heredity may also be a factor. Women whose mothers and/or sisters have/had fibroids have a higher risk of developing them too.

Symptoms of uterine fibroids

Most women have no symptoms. That is why most patients with fibroids do not know they have them. When symptoms do develop, they may include:

Anemia (as a result of heavy periods) Backache Constipation Discomfort in the lower abdomen (especially if fibroids are large) Frequent urination Heavy painful periods Pain in the legs Painful sex Swelling in the lower abdomen (especially if fibroids are large)

Diagnosis of fibroids

In most cases, the symptoms of fibroids are rarely felt and the patient does not know she has them. They are usually discovered during a vaginal examination.


If the doctor thinks fibroids may be present he/she may use an ultrasound scan to find out. Ultrasound can also eliminate other possible conditions which may have similar symptoms. Ultrasound scans are often used when the patient has heavy periods and blood tests have revealed nothing conclusive.

Trans-vaginal scan

A small scanner is inserted into the patient's vagina so that the uterus can be viewed close up.


This is a small telescope that examines the inside of the uterus. During this procedure, if necessary, a biopsy can be taken of the lining of the uterus (womb).


A laparoscope is a small device that looks at the outside of the uterus - where the doctor examines its size and shape. A laparoscope is a small flexible tube.


A small sample of the lining of the uterus is taken and then examined under a microscope.

Treatments for fibroids

If the woman has no symptoms and the fibroids are not affecting her day-to-day life she may receive no treatment at all. Even women who have heavy periods and whose lives are not badly affected by this symptom may also opt for no treatment. During the menopause symptoms will usually become less apparent, or disappear altogether as the fibroids usually shrink at this stage of a woman's life.

When treatment is necessary it may be in the form of medication or surgery.

Treating fibroids with medication

GnRHA GnRHA (gonadotropin released hormone agonist), administered by injection. GnRHAs make the woman's body produce much lower quantities of estrogen, which makes the fibroids shrink. GnRHA stops the woman's menstrual cycle. It is important to remember that GNRHAs are not contraceptives, and they do not affect a woman's fertility when she stops treatment. GNRHAs are also very helpful for women who have heavy periods and discomfort in their abdomen. GNRHAs may have menopause-like symptoms as their main side-effect, this might include hot flashes (UK: flushes), a tendency to sweat more, and vaginal dryness. Although thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) is also a possible side-effect, it is rare. GnRHAs may be administered to the patient before surgery in order to shrink the fibroids. GNRHAs are for short-term, not long-term use. GNRHAs combined with HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are sometimes prescribed to prevent menopause-like symptoms. Other drugs may be used to treat fibroids; however, they are less effective for larger fibroids. These include:

Tranexamic acid

These are presented in tablet form and are taken by the patient from the day pre menstrual period starts for up to 4 days. This is done each month. If symptoms do not improve within three months the patient should stop taking this medication. Tranexamic acid helps blood in the uterus clot, which reduces bleeding. A woman's fertility will not be affected by this treatment as soon as it is over.

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