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What Are Uterine Fibroids and How Do You Treat Them?

If you’ve been affected by uterine fibroids, you’re not alone. Uterine fibroids are a common condition. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that one in four American women will have uterine fibroid tumors at some point in their lives, usually in the childbearing or early middle years.

Whether or not you have personal experiences with fibroids, understanding what they are and how they develop is an important part of understanding your – or your partner’s – health needs. To help you identify when fibroids may be developing, we’ve collected the most important information about fibroids you need in recognizing them.

What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. Also known as leiomyoma, fibroids can appear as a single tumor, or – more frequently – as a group of several; they vary in size from as small as a seed to as big as a cantaloupe. In addition to developing in different groupings and sizes, there are different types of uterine fibroid tumor:

  • a submucosal grows into the uterine cavity
  • an intramural grows within the wall of the uterus
  • a subserosal fibroid grows on the outside of the uterus.
  • a pedunculated fibroid grows with a stalk, or stem-like structure.

What Are The Symptoms Associated With Fibroids?

When fibroids are symptomatic, the symptoms will vary according to the type, size and location of the fibroid. Pain and cramping are the most common symptoms, along with

heavier than normal menstrual bleeding. Larger ones may put pressure on the bladder and/or the rectum, causing frequent urination, constipation and rectal pain. Other less common symptoms include lower back pain, painful intercourse and a feeling of heaviness or fullness throughout the pelvis. Occasionally, when fibroids cause heavy bleeding, anemia can result. Although the anemia is usually reversible with iron and vitamin supplements, some women will need blood transfusions.

How Are Fibroids Diagnosed?

Fibroids can often be detected during a pelvic exam by a patient’s gynecologist, but a definitive diagnosis requires the use of diagnostic technology, including an ultrasound, MRI, CAT scan and other tests. Most small fibroids require no treatment. However, for bigger fibroids that may interfere with your uterine health, treatment is available.

How Are Fibroids Treated?

When women suffer from larger fibroids, uterine artery embolization is available. During a uterine artery embolization procedure, the patient is given light sedation, but remains conscious, Richard G. Foster, M.D., a board-certified Interventional Radiologist at St.Clair Hospital, explains. A doctor such as Dr. Foster then makes a tiny incision in the groin and threads a thin catheter into the femoral artery. Using state-of-the-art imaging technology, he is able to advance the catheter to the uterine artery, and to the smaller “feeder” vessels that serve as the blood supply for the fibroid tumor. Tiny bead-like particles called microspores are delivered through the catheter to the vessel feeding the fibroid; they close the vessel, blocking off the blood supply. Gradually, the fibroid tissue shrinks and dies; the tiny particles remain, but are harmless.

Uterine artery embolization is performed in St. Clair’s Interventional Radiology Lab, rather than in a traditional Operating Room. Dr. Foster says the procedure has numerous additional advantages over hysterectomy: it does not require general anesthesia or large surgical incisions; there is relatively minimal post-operative pain, no blood loss and no scarring. Uterine artery embolization requires a brief overnight admission to the Hospital and recovery is significantly faster and easier.

This story is an edited version of a full report recently published in our Winter 2017 edition of HouseCall. If you want to read the full write-up – which includes more information about uterine fibroids – you can visit the St.Clair website and download a copy of our Winter 2017 HouseCall