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Uterine Fibroids


Dr. Nathaniel Crump with a patient

At the University of Chicago Medicine, we offer highly specialized, effective care for women with uterine fibroids. Our multidisciplinary physician team has expertise in innovative surgical and non-surgical treatment techniques, including some that are not widely available.

Most importantly, our goals are to help you understand that you have options for uterine fibroid treatment, and to assist you in making the choice that best meets your unique physical and personal needs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Uterine Fibroids

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow in or on the wall of the uterus. Also called fibroid tumors, myomas or leiomyomas, they are made of smooth muscle and soft tissue. Fibroid tumors vary in size, ranging from the dimensions of a pea to a grapefruit.

Fibroids may grow within or on either side of the uterine wall. Certain symptoms are more or less likely to occur based on the location of the fibroid tumor. There are four types of fibroids based where and how they grow:

  • Intramural fibroids are embedded within the uterine wall. Symptoms associated with intramural fibroid tumors include pelvic pressure, frequent urination, prolonged periods, clotting and heavy bleeding.
  • Submucosal fibroids grow on the interior surface of the uterine wall, just beneath the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium). Submucosal fibroid tumors are commonly associated with heavy bleeding, but generally occur least frequently.
  • Subserosal fibroids grow on the exterior surface of the uterine wall. Subserosal fibroid tumors are commonly associated with pelvic pain and pressure.
  • Pedunculated fibroids branch out from the interior (pedunculated submucosal) or exterior (pedunculated subserosal) surface of the uterine wall. Protruding out on a stem of tissue, pedunculated fibroid tumors can shift and even twist, causing pelvic pain and pressure.
Pedunculated fibroids branch out from the interior (pedunculated submucosal) or exterior (pedunculated subserosal) surface of the uterine wall. Protruding out on a stem of tissue, pedunculated fibroid tumors can shift and even twist, causing pelvic pain and pressure.

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What are common symptoms of uterine fibroids?

Fibroid symptoms can vary significantly from woman to woman. Some women experience severe symptoms, while others are not symptomatic at all. Women who do not initially have symptoms may become symptomatic as a result of fibroid tumor growth.

Some of the most common symptoms associated with uterine fibroids are:

  • Heavy bleeding, cramping or clotting during periods
  • Prolonged periods (consistently more than seven to eight days)
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Pain, pressure or bloating in the abdomen, pelvis or lower back
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Urinary problems, such as leakage (incontinence) or inability to empty the bladder (retention)
  • Constipation
  • Chronic vaginal discharge
  • Weight gain
  • Anemia (low count of healthy red blood cells)
  • Infertility or difficulty conceiving

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What causes and/or risk factors are associated with uterine fibroids?

The exact cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. Factors that place women at higher risk for developing fibroid tumors may include:

  • Genetic history
  • African-American ancestry
  • Being of reproductive age, particularly age 35 and older
  • Obesity
  • Not having borne a child
  • Early onset of menstruation
  • Late onset of menopause

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Are African-American women at greater risk for developing uterine fibroids?

Black women are diagnosed with uterine fibroids at significantly higher rates than women of other ethnicities. Additionally, African-American women generally experience more symptoms and more accelerated fibroid tumor growth.

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Are uterine fibroids cancerous?

Uterine fibroids are not cancerous tumors. Additionally, fibroids do not cause cancer. However, there are some potential risk factors, such as rapid fibroid tumor growth or development of fibroids during menopause, that may warrant evaluation or close monitoring.

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How are uterine fibroids diagnosed?

Uterine fibroids often are detected when a physician feels a firm mass during a woman's pelvic exam. At the University of Chicago Medicine, our multidisciplinary physician team specializes in proven techniques to examine fibroid tumors for details that will confirm your diagnosis and inform your treatment options. » Learn more about definitive diagnosis for uterine fibroids at the University of Chicago Medicine.

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What are my options for uterine fibroid treatment?

At the University of Chicago Medicine, our first priority is to educate you about your options for uterine fibroid treatment. Our multidisciplinary team of experts offers a range of effective fibroid treatment options from medication to specialized non-surgical and surgical techniques, including office-based procedures. » Learn more about your options for uterine fibroid treatment at the University of Chicago Medicine.

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